Friday, December 25, 2015

Merry Christmas 2015

This year, was an unusual year. It will probably go down in history as the warmest Christmas in Ontario history. I'm fine with it. I'm old and don't need snow ever again. On the other hand, we're all waiting for the other shoe to drop.

Our activities began with the annual cookie making and gingerbread house creating. A friend came over and we made "martini" cookies. The only part of this activity that had a martini in it was my tummy...oh, and of course the shape of the cookie cutter.

This was followed by the annual gingerbread house creation. My daughter and I agreed that despite the weather, we miss the tropics, hence this property, complete with pool, palms and clothesline. Of course, no house is complete without a gingerbread family (courtesy of my daughter).

We visited the Primrose Donkey Sanctuary for the annual carolling with the donkeys. This was actually one of the cooler days of the month, but nonetheless, the donkeys sang their hearts out.

One evening, we strolled downtown to enjoy our lovely annual Christmas light display.

Afterward, we admired the store fronts, the beautiful town hall, and the gingerbread houses. The houses were fabulous but we were satisfied with ours. One particular window caught Carmen's eye.

Christmas Eve was an interesting time. We walked on the beach and hubby barbecued our lunch. Then we enjoyed the festive evening with family. No frightful weather, no delightful fire, no snow. It was fine with me.

On Christmas morning, all the eager ones were awake bright and early. They ate and opened gifts....exhausting.

Merry Christmas to all, and to all....goodnight.

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Krampus, The Tale and The Movie

I grew up with German stories and folk tales. Most of them were scary, and as I have determined in my later years, were designed to encourage children to behave. There was Peter, to whom terrible things happened because he wouldn't get his hair or fingernails clipped. Of course Jonathan didn't eat his food and finally died. The little girl who played with matches burned herself. Those were just a few. It was all nasty, horrible stuff.

Thankfully, what I never heard about was Krampus. My son first brought this character to my attention. "Tell me about Krampus," he said.

"What, who?"

"Krampus", he repeated.

The puzzled look on my face probably said it all. I had never heard of Krampus. He seemed disappointed. On the other hand, he was twenty five years old at the time, and I was unconvinced that he'd be damaged for life.

Research has told me that Krampus is a hairy, horned beastly figure that punishes children at Christmas. It is said to have originated in Alpine countries. There's often a parade, which includes celebrants dressed as the beast. At one time, the Krampus figure was found on greeting cards and other paraphernalia. Apparently, it has become less frightening and has appeared more friendly in recent years, being more humorous than fearsome in order to promote tourist approval.

So when it was announced that this Christmas, there would be a movie entitled "Krampus",  I made a date...with my son. The film would be in theatres on December 3rd. We went today.

The movie began with a family awaiting the arrival of an unruly bunch of boisterous relatives. I was immediately reminded of the Griswolds and Cousin Eddie's family in National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation. There was even a dog. The difference was that this crew was neither endearing, nor funny. The family is having a meal and are bickering and being rude and insulting to each other the entire time. The son, Max, gets disillusioned about Christmas, rips up his letter to Santa, and it's then when a terrible storm, power failures, and odd happenings ensue.

There are some good actors in this movie. I particularly enjoyed the oma character who spoke German but for some inexplicable reason suddenly became fluent in English. She tells the story of her childhood encounter with Krampus at which point the movie changes temporarily to an animated "Nightmare Before Christmas" type of thing. Come to think of it, if someone were to put together several Christmas movies, add some lines from Air Force One, and some other assorted phrases, and cliches, that would describe the dialogue in Krampus.

The anti-Santa is somewhat frightening but then the whole story turns hokey when the writers invoke every child's greatest fears to help with the scare factor. I'm fairly certain that Krampus has nothing to do with clowns, Chucky dolls, evil gingerbread cookies, armies of nasty snowmen and the like, but then I might be mistaken. After all, what do I know about Krampus?

Of course, the American solution to every problem becomes evident before long. There's a Hummer belonging to the redneck type relatives. Inside are weapons (not of mass destruction, but none the less an assortment of guns). These prove to be pea shooters against the evil that tunnels with heads, dolls, clowns, and other nasty toys. Soon...all hell breaks loose, both literally and figuratively.

The ending is a bit unusual. Yes, there's a dream sequence. I don't feel I'm giving away the plot by telling this secret. In fact, the plot is pretty much non existent except for an hour and a half of a frightened family fighting against the latest in terrorism which has arrived in their midst.

So what was the best part of the movie? The best part was seeing it with my son. We shared a lovely lunch, chatted, shopped a bit, and saw the film.

I thought I'd surprise my son with some Krampus playing cards, a novelty item in his Christmas stocking this year.
 It appears that I am a bit late. He's already cornered the market on the Krampus merchandise. When I dropped him off he showed me his Christmas ornament and a book containing a collection of old postcards and of course, the real story of Krampus.

Saturday, December 5, 2015

Toronto Christmas Market

It was promoted as the "Toronto Christmas Market" with free admission from Tuesday to Friday. Weekends would cost $5 per person. There would be vendors, entertainment and food galore.

On Thursday, we decided to attend. The price was right and the weather was perfect. It would be an outing for us and a place where we could even bring the dog. The Distillery District, a historical part of the city often used to film t.v. programmes would have more to offer than usual during this season. Parking was relatively simple and close although I doubt this to be the case on weekends. We entered and first saw the magnificent and very tall tree which graced the property.

Besides all the usual designer stores, the bakeries, and galleries, which are a regular part of the Distillery District, there were huts displaying Christmas foods and wares. They even advertised beer, amarulo, cider, hot chocolate, and other assorted drinks. Unfortunately, these were not available for imbibing while we were there...later in the day, I think. Good thing it wasn't cold!

 Hubby wasted no time checking out the assorted wursts, marzipan, and Christmas stollen. Then our puppy showed us that she could do the same ear tricks as the stuffed dogs. Clever.
There were things to see, things to do, things to taste, and all in all it was a lovely day of enjoying the outdoors. I spied this little bird pretending to be part of a display as he flitted from branch to branch nibbling the bright red berries. I was finally able to creep up close enough for a photo.
Of course, my favourite part of all was checking out the gingerbread house and pretending I was the witch from one of my favourite fairy tales, Hansel and Gretel.
Before we left, we had the privilege of hearing a talented quartet called the Candy Cane Carollers. Their voices were a joy to listen to and a culmination to a nice experience.

Friday, December 4, 2015

Grinch Trees and Other Greenery

Tis the season isn't it? I've been slow on the uptake this year...both with my blog and with any form of shopping, but I'm gradually getting there. I may not manage to come up with gifts for everyone this Christmas. If I don't, there are always some scraps of paper around for promisory notes. Perhaps I can even get each person to fill in the blanks with what they'd like. Yes, I believe this is a much better idea than giving gifts. it isn't. Gifts are always better although the best gifts in my mind are experiences which create lifelong and hopefully good memories.

So this brings me to the current seasonal blog about some smaller experiences.

I saw a post on Facebook that went something like "Isn't it more fun spending $97 to make something yourself rather than purchasing it for $10?" It's amazing how true some of these jokes can become.

My first effort trying to get into the Christmas spirit went something like this. I stared at the ever enduring fall flowers in the assorted planters around the exterior of the house. Perhaps, considering the mild weather this year, they'll last through December I thought. The big purple cabbage like plants looked healthy, but purple. The orange and brown chrysanthemums were not quite the colour of the season, but maybe a bit of spray paint or glitter plus a few bows and boughs would solve that.

After hubby mentioned that he could trim the bottom branches from our pine trees, I thought better of my original laziness. I'd seen many planters at stores costing in excess of $30 and all they consisted of was a bunch of branches, some twigs, a couple of pinecones, a bow, and sometimes, some large Christmas balls on sticks. I could do that. In fact, I probably already owned most of those things.

I spent about ten minutes pine needle arranging, during which time I particularly enjoyed the injections of sap into my body through my hands and arms. After accomplishing pretty much nothing, I realized that my Dollarama pine cones were too small, I had tossed out my artificial berry branches in an effort to downsize, and my Christmas balls on sticks were the wrong colour...and too small. On the bright side, I did have some sinamay for the bow. This venture would require shopping.

Nonetheless, here's the result. Quite attractive I'd say.

It didn't cost $97 but once one considers the time, the tree branch trimming, treks to the store to repurchase what was given away, antihistamine for the aforementioned sap issue....well....

Attempting to combine the joy of creation with the spirit of the season, a friend and I registered for a class at a florist. It was a Grinch tree making class and seemed reasonable at $55 for the session and materials. Besides, who wouldn't want a Grinch tree?

By the time we arrived at our work stations, people had already snatched up the best colours of wire, ribbon, ornaments, and the like. On the other hand, it was going to be a Grinch need for perfection or matching of baubles.

I stared enviously at the woman next to me who had clearly also made a planter at home, and having a better memory than me, remembered the agony of the pine. She had brought lovely orange garden gloves. Oh well, I preferred to become one with my tree. I wanted to feel the love as I created the mind.

Imagine my surprise when there was no tree at the work station. There was a Santa suit tin can containing wet oasis, some cedar and pine, a ribbon, some wire (mine was now ugly metal since that was what was left) and other assortments of goods. Of course, there was the option of purchasing more elaborate decorations but since I'd had previous experience (a fairy April 20th), I knew better and declined.

The demonstration consisted of putting the branches in the oasis, wrapping with wire, bending, decorating with balls, and voila, a tree....simple. Some branches were a bit scruffier than others. I trimmed my loose tree hairs, giving it a nice haircut. I then tried to pry my sticky fingers off the clippers. When I attempted to separate enough of my fingers from each other, so that I might pick up and admire my creation, my mind wandered as I wondered whether tree sap was one of the ingredients in crazy glue. A song came to mind. "I wander as I wonder....." or is it "I wonder as I wander"?

I heard my friend's voice and I snapped back to reality. "I need purple things on my tree. Maybe I'll buy this." she announced as she held up something akin to a giant piece of fan coral but sparkly and purple. Thankfully, I talked her out of it. I know, I know. I shouldn't have. It was her "experience".

After a few hours of creating, off I went, proud of my accomplishment yet again.

My Grinch tree currently adorns my living room.  I haven't had the heart to put it outside. In fact, since my summer plants are still thriving on the porch, and might be there for the season, I suppose the tree had better stay where it is for now...unless that is, I need the spot for pens and scraps of paper so that people might write their wish lists on promisory notes this Christmas.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Elf on a Shelf - Christmas Tradition or Clever Gimmick?

I had to research something I've seen appearing on store shelves around Christmas and have noticed for a number of years now. It hasn't always existed. I know that for a fact because I have pretty much always existed.
On the internet, Elf on a Shelf  is called a "Christmas Tradition". Really? To me, and to Merriam Webster, a tradition is custom or belief handed down from generation to generation. How many generations have there been since 2005? This is when the elf first appeared in a story by Carol Aebersold.

As the story goes, the elf watches children in their home and reports back to Santa each night. Then he flies back and shows up someplace else in the house the next day, creating a game of hide and go seek for the family. Families can also adopt their elf by giving him a name and writing it and the adoption date on the back of the box. The marketing has certainly proved brilliant. There are all kinds of secondary items available for purchase including new outfits for your adopted elf...shades of the old cabbage patch doll.

Over the years, this item has received as many accolades (book of the year, toy of the year) as it has criticisms. It has been suggested that this toy creates a "big brother is watching" type of environment and causes children to become acclimatized to, and unbothered by being spied on.

To me, this is a bit of a ridiculous exaggeration and fear mongering. First of all, how is it different from "He sees you when you're sleeping. He knows when you're awake"? It certainly is no worse than terrorizing children with Krampus. (more on that in another upcoming blog)

I don't object to new toys or new ideas. I don't even mind if this eventually becomes a tradition in families. Just don't call it a tradition after only ten years in existence. Next thing we know it'll be called an "iconic" toy.


A number of years after the beginnings of the elf on the shelf, came another toy, this time for the Jewish population. It started as a joke between Neal Hoffman (creator) and his wife. It was called "Mensch on a Bench".

Apparently, Mensch stays up to watch over the menorah, but if kids misbehave, he will hold on to the centre candle and not allow them any gifts. I believe this even made an episode of Shark Tank which helped to launch the toy. Who wouldn't want one of these adorable Menschies after seeing it?

There was a humorous editorial cartoon in the Northumberland News about a year ago. It kind of describes the end result of all this extraneous "tradition" perfectly. Kind of makes me glad I'm well beyond these seasonal pressures with my children or am I?
Apologies to the cartoonist. I can't make out the name and have googled until my eyes fell out
but I am unable to locate the original or the owner of this
cartoon in order to give credit.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Senior Tips & Hints Part 1

I recently shared some senior tips on Facebook. Whereas I could save these and add to them, I thought I'd write what I've learned thus far. I'm certain there'll be more. If I can save one person from pain and humiliation, this blog will have done its job.

These tips are mainly for older females. That's because I am one and can speak from experience. Take heed.

Hair Hints

 #1 - If you aren't a big fan of change, do not go to a new hair saloon. Eg. I currently look like I bought a box of brown dye at Walmart and coloured my hair in a sink at a bus terminal. On the bright side, it matches the age spots on my face. ‪#‎bikerchick‬

 #2 - When planning to go out in public on a day when you don't want to first wash your hair, it is essential that you use the correct product. For example, instant spray shampoo is NOT the same as instant spray for shoes. Two helpful hints would be - don't be in such a rush, and put on your glasses. That's all.

Jewellery Issues

 Always use a mirror for activities requiring mild to moderate precision. Two hook type earrings might fit through those donut sized teen ear holes, but if you accidentally put two earrings through one of your 1960's piercings, I guarantee a problem. Looking into the mirror after the fact and trying to remove same only poses additional pain and aggravation.‪#‎advantagedyslexics‬


 As some of us have learned, there are body parts that shift and some that droop as we age. There are even limbs that seem to shrink requiring extra caution lest it result in disaster. For example, when using the Kitchenaid mixer after it has had a long hiatus, do not reach across said machine to plug it in with your now shorter saggier arms. This could be extremely painful, particularly if the beater is in the upright position and you forgot to turn the switch to "off" after your last use. On the bright side, I won't have to shave my right armpit anymore.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Another Birthday and A Weekend Away

I have to say that sometimes, when you least expect it, things happen. I'm talking about a series of events which sometimes fall into place really nicely. So was my last week.

I recently had another birthday. Where do those keep coming from? Of course, for the most part birthdays become increasingly undesirable as we age. This one, was a pleasant surprise.

I awoke to find the kitchen decorated with gifts, balloons, and balloon animals. My daughter had
been busy during the night. Knowing how much hubby likes gifts, she even got a present for him so that he might celebrate his half birthday. Later in the day, we all enjoyed some lovely Greek take-out food, bubbly wine drinks, and a birthday cake...Smurfs.
The next day, my friend and I headed out for Ottawa. I had recently received an email about the Signatures Show, so we decided it would be worth attending.  We arrived at the Novotel in the evening, after cautiously negotiating our way through a rainstorm and the usual construction. We had an unremarkable dinner. (see my Tripadvisor Review of Albion Rooms, Ottawa)

Saturday morning, we left bright and early for the Byward Market. We passed several amusing signs and one that was slightly disturbing....grass fed beef with a picture of a puffin?

We explored, bought some special celebratory Trudeau cookies, and eventually wandered toward the Shaw Centre where the Signature Show was happening. What a treat that was. Admission was a bargain at $6 senior. They were optimistic that we looked like shoppers and we were given a special bag for being one of the first 200 to enter the show on that day. The artisans were amazing. This wasn't one of those, sampling crackers and jam types of shows. There were many creative designers of jewellery, rugs, art, leather, knitwear, and more. There were unique items and best of all, they were totally Canadian. Talented creators had come from Quebec and other parts of the country to show off their work. Not only that, the artisans were willing to chat at length about their skills, talents, and dreams for the future. This wasn't just an exhibit, it was an experience.
By afternoon, we were tired enough for a rest but that didn't deter us from further explorations later in the day. We had seen a store that advertised "no ordinary shoes" and at the time, I hadn't realized that they sold Canadian designer John Fluevog wares. I had seen these shoes before in the Distillery District in Toronto. I often wondered whether they would fit my platypus feet. We had to return to try some, just to say we had. After an hour and a half, and a very helpful and persistent sales girl who was convinced that she could find shoes to fit me, along came a pair of what I like to call, Minnie Mouse/Daisy Duck shoes. They were large, wide, comfortable and most of all, had a heel. It was an interesting heel, but nonetheless, it was a heel. I was ecstatic as I whipped out my birthday money and clung to the shoes as if they were the most beautiful things on earth. Actually, they are...especially when they're on my feet. Now I am the proud owner of "no ordinary shoes". After all, I'm no ordinary person.
Truth be told, we tried every shoe in the store.
Sensible shoes with flare

After an eventful and exhausting day, we collapsed fatigued, woke up early the next day, had breakfast, and began to head home. That's not to say we drove directly home, but we did arrive eventually.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Chocolate, Chocolate, Everywhere

Last Sunday's Chocolate Exhibition and Marketplace in Toronto was an experience to be sure. It was the culmination of the Toronto Chocolate Festival, a fundraising event which I didn't even know existed. This year, all proceeds from functions such as The Chocolate Ball and Tea went to Prostate and Breast Cancer groups.

My daughter and I purchased advanced tickets, took GO transit, and walked to the venue...Roy Thomson Hall. This time, we were hoping to see a symphony of a different kind. It was to be a symphony of taste and a rhapsody of chocolate.

Knowing what we do now, we might have approached this day a bit differently, but nonetheless, we did well. I realize that some of what stood out to us as disorganization, might be excused because many of the staff were volunteers. I'm hoping to find out where to give some feedback.

After entering the hall, we saw that the exhibits were "in the round". That is, they were all set up in the hallway of this circular building. Guests were naturally clustered around tables where free samples were available. According to the programme, there were 25 different chocolate makers from different parts of the country exhibiting their wares.

We soon noted that many items were for sale for cash and some displays had signs stating "2 tickets, 3 tickets" and so on. This confused us until we eventually realized that there were sampling tickets for purchase further along the hall...somewhat disappointing after our admission cost. On the other hand, it was also possible to take items home with an appropriate number of tickets. We decided against the ticket purchase as there were enough vendors dispensing free tastes.
We searched for some entertainment, perhaps chocolate sculptures, people dressed in costume, chocolate fountains, and the like but found only this strange item which looked out of place in the middle of the room. It made no sense. I photographed my daughter's hand in the frame which was also not made of chocolate (the hand nor the frame).

One thing we wanted to check out was the wine and chocolate pairing workshop. This was going to cost another $15 and was available at specified times only. We inquired but the people in the vicinity of the signage were unfamiliar with this event. Again, we decided against the expense.

As we shifted our eyes skyward, we saw some people sipping what appeared to be beverages of a certain proof on the upper level. ID's were being checked as patrons ventured up the stairs. We asked and were told anyone could go up there. We were of course disappointed that nobody questioned our ages. Trudging up the steps with my old legs was a challenge, but I thought of it as a way to work off a few of the earlier free samples. After reaching the top, we discovered, that we needed tickets for the samples and the only place to purchase them was downstairs at the one ticket selling location. Told that we'd probably need about 3 tickets per drink sample, we purchased a fist full and headed back up the steps.

The first vendor we saw, was dispensing chocolate raspberry truffle wine. Interesting and a bargain at only one ticket. Chocolate samples were 2 or 3 tickets, but liquor samples were, as we now discovered only one. We set up camp. Not only was the mezzanine level far less crowded, we could see all the events below, everything from chocolate making demos to eating contests and games.

The Girls' Night Out chocolate raspberry truffle wine was delicious. It tasted exactly as the picture would suggest. Note - I wouldn't recommend this as a dinner wine with meat but rather more of a dessert as the label would indicate. After tasting a chocolate vodka mojito or two, followed by some chocolate lager, and some other type of wine, we really began to appreciate the show.
We also found that we had far too many tickets left over. Back we went for another sample of raspberry, chocolate truffle wine. This had now become our favourite by far. A short trip downstairs to one of the chocolate vendors helped to dispose of the rest of our tickets. I would not recommend chocolate covered dates filled with nuts from Dubai after sampling a few liquors.

We were getting hungry and tired of the smell of chocolate so we left and had lunch before negotiating the maze which is the new and impossible \Union Station. 

We also took some samples home for hubby, but if he doesn't soon eat that chocolate mouse sitting on our sideboard, it just might skitter into someone else's mouth.

Friday, October 30, 2015

Halloween Pumpkin Fun

Sometimes we forget the fun we used to have.  Fortunately, we have our children to remind us.

My adult daughter recently mentioned that we should have a mom-daughter bonding time. She suggested carving pumpkins.

"Really?" I asked. "More than one?"

"Three," she announced. "We need at least three."

So I picked up a couple of small ones on my way home tonight. We already had a larger one ready to go.

This evening we began. Three pumpkins, cut open and cleaned out. Now what?
We needed to make a plan but had no fabulous ideas. I had scooped out the big one so I started by making my usual boring face, but soon after became a little more creative. Eventually, through no effort at all, my Jack-o-Lantern became a punk rocker...or perhaps Mick decide.
My daughter tried to recreate her own facial features by using some of her makeup. She wasn't happy with the outcome and after a bit of back and forth and a lot of laughter we thought of a chia pet. Wanting to make it current, we were thinking Miley Cyrus or the like, but eventually zeroed in on the Kardashian family. We're not familiar except for what we've heard on the news and through the Jenner connection. From this, the "Chia Kardashian" was born. I always knew there had to be a use for all that extra parsley that comes in supermarket clumps.

The realistic box was entirely my clever daughter's doing.

Since we were getting tired, we decided to punch a few holes to create swiss cheese and fill the final pumpkin with vermin. Here's the result.
Further crazy thoughts were to add a glass of wine with the cheese and the cheese knife or possibly make it into a Kardashian family wine and cheese party. Unfortunately it was well beyond the witching hour and by the time we had cleaned up all our mess....and yet, here I am writing a blog.

It's amazing how these simple creative and fun things can give us such joy. Unfortunately, we lose a lot of the lust for life and energy to want to do things as we get older. Why is that?