Monday, June 29, 2009

Time away, part 2: Ontario

So, the second part of our time away took place in various towns in the southwestern region of Ontario. What I would have really loved to have done was to ignore all family obligations and gone to Canada's Wonderland. Seriously. I love roller coasters and there isn't much of that sort of thing around here.

Ontario: Saturday, June 17th to Wednesday, June 20th

Our flight arrived on time at Pearson International Airport on Saturday morning. We whizzed through customs (I'm always a little nervous after a particularly bad experience crossing the boarder a few years ago) and were one of the first to pick up our luggage. We had just enough time to call Andrew's parents to figure out who was picking us up and for me to run to the washroom before Margaret arrived. Margaret, by the way, is now 7 months pregnant. We hadn't seen her since Christmas when it wasn't known that she was expecting, so there was a little bit of disconnect between when we'd seen her last and now, very "great with child."

After being picked up we drove into Toronto to visit with John and his girlfriend, Cindy before heading to the Bowmanville area to attend Carl (uncle to Andrew) and Diane's wedding. Unfortunately it rained on Saturday and it was rather chilly making it not the most ideal wedding weather. The wedding, however, was very nice. The service was simple (did you know God is Awesome?) but nice and the reception took place almost immediately afterward at Carl and Diane's gorgeous house (it's a huge one story bungalow). Dinner was a causal affair starting out with various salads (potato, pasta, Cesar etc) and a wide assortment of grilled meats (and fish). Sometimes I find gatherings of Andrew's family a little overwhelming. Everyone is very nice and there's lots of exuberant conversation, but being a natural introvert after a few hours I find the noise tiring. I rarely see my cousins and it's been several years since the last time all my aunts, uncles and cousins were together in the same room and even then, we don't interact in the same lively manner as the Fischers do.

On Sunday the entire family attended mass in Waterloo then enjoyed a Father's Day lunch of cold salads. Cards and gifts were exchanged before everyone but Andrew and I returned to Toronto--Margaret was flying back to Victoria, BC, and John and Cindy were to go back to their apartment. Andrew and I had a brief opportunity to visit with friends and their 2 month old son before being picked up by my brother Matthew and carted off to Huntingford where my parents live. Since no visit home is really a visit without running around at a crazy, break neck speed, after dinner we headed back to Kitchener to catch up with friends over a pint at The Whale and Ale. Whew. That's all for Sunday.

Monday began around 8:30 a.m. giving me just enough time to shower and dress and get down to Waterloo Town Square by 9:30 a.m. to meet up with Josh, who I hadn't seen since Christmas 2007. We took our time chatting over breakfast (for me, a cappuccino and a chocolate biscuit-type thing). Afterward I caught a bus back to Kitchener and stopped in at the mall where I picked up a couple of pairs of capries (it was screaming hot in Ontario and I only had one skirt to wear) and new sandals (my old Merrell sandals tore up my feet while I was in New York) and made it back to Andrew's parents' place just a few minutes after 12:00 p.m. After lunch I prepared a couple of potluck offerings for a meeting with my nursing friends (commonly referred to as "the Ladies") in Guelph. We had a delightful dinner with far more food than we could possibly eat. Its always nice to get together with the Ladies, they're the only good thing that came out of my nursing degree.

Tuesday. Tuesday was my mother's birthday. I started out the day by going for a run. I probably only ran about 35 minutes, but I was absolutely exhausted (probably related the humidity, which is absent in Alberta). Then I had to track down Andrew who was visiting with his grandmother (who lives 5 minutes walking distance away). I sat with them and chatted for another half an hour before I insisted that we needed to get going. I'd promised to make my mother a birthday cake and I needed enough time to get to my parents' place to complete my baking task. The cake baking and decorating went off smoothly. My brother Stephen, my sister-in-law Michelle and their son Alexander arrived shortly before dinner, which we ate out on the back porch. After dinner pictures were scheduled to take place with the whole family. I was worried this was going to be a drawn out and painful process, but it turn out not so bad. My mom's cousin David, who's a professional photographer, came out to take pictures.

Finally, Wednesday, our last day, was definitely our slowest day. I woke up before Andrew and after breakfast headed out for a run around the concession (probably around 8 km). It was a nice day, sunny, lots of blue sky and already hot by 9:30 a.m. I had a real problem with sunscreen running into my eyes. By the time I got back from my run Andrew was up. We didn't really do anything of note for the rest of the day. We both read to pass the time until we had to drive back to Kitchener to return the car we'd borrowed. We sat around a little longer at Andrew's parents' place until my parents arrived (they were returning us to the airport).

And that's it. That was our time away. Short, compact and now mercifully over. Andrew and I have now mostly recovered. Our colds (Andrew's hit on the Monday, mine not until we got back to Edmonton) are almost gone. Tabitha seems happy to have us home (she was expertly cared for by Lisa). Our lives are mostly back to normal.



Thursday, June 25, 2009

Time away, part 1: New York, NY

I'm not convinced what I went on was a vacation. I suppose I didn't have to go to work and for the last few days I was able to sleep in, but I'm not sure that qualifies as a vacation. It was more, time away from my current city of residence. I'm going to post the 2 sections of our time away separately, since we visited 2 geographical locations.

New York, NY: Wednesday, June 17th to Saturday, June 20th.

This was my first time to New York and it was definitely far too short (I was really only in the city for 2 full days, having arrived on Wednesday after 5:00 p.m. and left on Saturday at 8:00 a.m.). I could have flown out with Andrew on Sunday, but then I would have had 5 days by myself instead of just 2. I hope we'll have the opportunity to return some time when we're both free and can tour around together.

My first hour or so in the city was not the best start I could have hoped for. I took the wrong direction at every opportunity. I went the wrong way on the tram at the airport, I went the wrong way on the subway when I reached New York Penn Station, I went the wrong way once I reached my subway stop and I cross the street in preparation to go the wrong way at 114th street. If I hadn't been pulling my luggage behind me, I would have felt a little more at ease. Overall, it wasn't all that bad. Each mistake was realized fairly quickly before I got myself in trouble and no one tried to take advantage of the fact that I was obviously a tourist and a lost one at that. However, it did mean that I left Andrew a little worried about my later than expected arrival (my Telus cell phone wouldn't work in the States). I didn't reach his room at Columbia University until 7:30 p.m. and we didn't have dinner until well after that.

We had a couple of really great dinners in New York. On my first night we went to an Italian restaurant called Campo. The combination of the music and dinners talking made it a little difficult to hear one another, but otherwise it was great. We had a delicious soft cheese as an appetizer, which was drizzled with honey and pistachios, and served with a lightly grilled flat bread. For main course I had a duck risotto and Andrew some kind of pasta with truffle butter. For desert we shared a piece house-made tiramisu. The prices were all very reasonable, too. I think my duck entree cost about $15.00. Our meal on Thursday night was at Le Monde (The World) a French restaurant on the opposite side of the street. We went all out with this meal, ordering cocktails, wine and desert coffee to go along with our food. We started with a very cheesy french onion soup then I enjoyed coq du vin and I've forgotten what Andrew had. For desert I had a delightful tarte au citron vert and Andrew had an apple crape. Again, the prices were quite reasonable. We would have paid a good deal more to eat this kind of meal at Normand's in Edmonton.

Okay, just a few more words about food. There was a great bakery on Broadway near the University were I got my breakfast on Thursday--a delicious garlic bagel with butter and a small coffee. It cost me $2.25. They had the most amazing looking deserts, but alas I didn't get to try one. I also went to a delightful grill and deli type place at Amsterdam and 114th on Friday. Here I indulged in an enormous sandwich with grilled chick, onions and peppers accompanied by an iced cappuccino. Yum!

So, beside eat, what did I do in New York? Not a whole lot, actually. Being by myself I didn't feel like venturing too far afield. I had been given the recommendation of a great museum, but it was a fair distance away from where we were staying. Google Maps told me the transit ride was about an hour long (underground on the subway). So instead on Thursday I decided to brave the torrential down pour and walk to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. It took me slightly under an hour to get there (I cut through Central Park thinking it would be faster) and was soaked from the thighs down (I had an umbrella, it helped a little).

The Museum was a monstrous maze. I arrived shortly before 11:00 a.m., purchased my admission and a radio tour guide and headed off into the world of Egyptian art. This was due to location more than interest. I'd also failed to pick up a map, so I didn't know what else was available to view. As it turned out, there was lots. I wandered out of Egypt slightly dazed around noon and headed for the American wing, which I enjoyed thoroughly. It contained several mock-up rooms decorated for various time periods dating back to the 1700s. Many of the furniture pieces were simply gorgeous, but after the first floor (there were three) I knew I was pushing my luck against rapidly dropping blood sugar levels and had to hurry through the open storage floor (displaying row upon row of museum items not officially arranged in one of the rooms) and the top floor with more mock-up rooms. After lunch I checked the modern art wing, which included a number of Picassos (and other cubists whose names I can't remember), several large Jackson Pollock paintings and an Andy Warhol print of Jackie Kennedy. There were plenty of other artists, but I can't remember their names. After several mis-steps I managed to locate the musical instrument collection. I spent at least half an hour wondering around trying to find it--like I said it was a maze in there. I headed back to the University around 4:45 p.m., by which time the rain had mercifully stopped.

On Friday I started off the day with a run around Central Park. It was already pretty warm at 8:30 a.m. and there were tons of people out running the park. Not knowing how long the road through Central Park was, I starting to get worried that I wouldn't have the stamina to complete the loop, but I did (it took approximately 55 minutes). After I'd showered, dressed, packed up my bags and checked out, I grabbed a bite to eat and visited a nearby cathedral. It was big and cathedral like. I took a bunch of pictures for no particular reason. Once I'd had enough of the cathedral I headed into Central Park again to visit Strawberry Fields, the memorial to John Lennon. While at Strawberry Fields I sat for a little while to rest my very tired feet (its located on the opposite end of the park from where we were staying) then headed back up to the University. I needed to grab my bags before heading back down town to our new hotel (the University residence was throwing everyone out as a new conference started immediately after the one Andrew attended). After a short subway ride (I headed out in the right direction this time) I reached the hotel and promptly collapsed on the bed and watched an episode of Law and Order. The purpose of this stop was mainly to give my feet a rest as I wanted to explore Broadway and do a little shopping.

Our last event of our stay in New York was attending a performance of Wicked on Friday night. I first saw the show 2 years ago in London, England and loved it. Obsessed over it, actually. After I returned from Europe I purchased a copy of the sound track and the piano book. Although Andrew had never seen the show before, he was already familiar with the songs and had guessed much of the storyline. The theatre was packed and the show was as good as I remembered it. I was got a little choked up at the beginning of the performance because I was so happy to be seeing Wicked again. Weird, I know. I think Andrew enjoyed it too. When we got back, we had to pack our bags back up and set the alarm for 5:45 a.m. so we could catch our morning flight to Toronto.

That's all for part 1. Part 2 to come in a couple of days.



Monday, June 15, 2009

No good titles come to mind...

That's actually how I'm feeling about my poor Nora MS. I can't just call it Nora. True, that is my protagonist's name, and the story is told entirely from her perspective, but what am I suppose to call the second story? Nora 2, More Nora, The continuing life of Nora? I think not. I'll have to keep pondering this conundrum.

Let me recount my weekend, which although not terribly exciting, was the purpose of this post.


I got up at the un-earthly time of 5:30 a.m. to take Mandy to the Edmonton International Airport. The only good thing about driving that early in the morning is the minimal traffic. When I returned home, around 7:15 a.m., I finished off the RA hours I chose to neglect on Thursday, which took an hour. I practiced my French, took a shower and attempted to grocery shop. I say, attempted to grocery shop because when I reached the till I discovered I'd forgotten my wallet. Ugh. I returned home sans-groceries and popped on good ole' Pride and Prejudice (BBC 1995) while I sat for a few minute to rest my legs then got to work on the kitchen. I wish I was a more proficient housekeeper, but I'm not. I try to clean the bathroom and vacuum the floors at least once a week. Sometimes that doesn't work out and things get a little gross for my taste. On Friday I washed down all the counters, the cupboard doors, the oven and the floor, plus rearranged some of our storage paces. This took approximately 2 hours. Then I tidied and cleaned the computer desk, and the over-filled and unorganized drawers from the desk in the bedroom. Whew.

Friday night, was more interesting. Andrew and I attended the ESO's final concert for the 2008-2009 season. As mentioned previously, the concert featured the solo violinist James Ehnes and his 1715 Stradivarius violin (well not actually his, it's borrowed from the Fulton Collection). His performance (perhaps not surprising since he has the honour of playing a Strad) was stellar. You might be wondering, could we tell the difference between the sound of the Strad and other violins? Well, no, not really. Probably if we heard a short piece played on the Strad, followed by the same piece played on a second, non-Strad violin the difference would be obvious, but not so much when compared to the entire orchestra. However, the crazy high notes (played well over the finger board) were crystal-clear and gorgeous sounding--not screechy or unpleasant. On the program was: Mendelssohn (A Midsummer Night’s Dream: Overture, Op.21), Chausson (Po√®me in E-flat Major for Violin, Op.25), Wieniawski (Fantasie on Themes from Gounod’s “Faust”) and one of my favourites, Prokofiev (selections from Romeo and Juliet).


Andrew and I dragged out butts out of bed shortly after 7:30 to go for our Saturday morning long run. We felt since we've run our half marathon and have no current plans to run another this summer we would cut down the distance from about 21 km to about 17 km (our run length is based on time and our run distance is based on the estimation of our km/hr). We returned home shortly before 10:00, scrubbed the grim off our skins (I sweat like the proverbial pig) then headed down to the City Centre mall. Normally we go to the farmers market after our run, but since we're not going to be around much this weekend we skipped it (except for lunch--smokies, on the way home). Andrew needed to purchase some conference appropriate clothing. We wound up at Le Chateau, which used to be my favourite store until I discovered the divine (and expensive) beauty of BCBG. He managed to pick up two nice button down shirts (one white, one green), a tie, a pull over sweater and a blazer.

In the evening Andrew and I finally caught the new Star Trek movie. I balled during the first 10 minutes. It was heart wrenching. Really, you'd have to have a heart of stone not to be moved at least a little. If you've seen the movie, you know what I mean. Otherwise, it was pretty fantastic. Many of the new cast members bare a passing resemblance to the classic actors and it was fun to see how each character popped up and joined the crew of the Enterprise. The plot was interesting too, delving into the motivations behind Spock and Kirk. And it involved time travel. Oh, and Leonard Nemoy reprised his role as Spock (old Spock that is, not young Spock).


Another day that started at 5:30 a.m. This time to take Andrew to the airport so he could head off to New York. Most of the rest of the day was pretty unremarkable (as one might guess from my previous post). I'm looking forward to joining Andrew in New York on Wednesday. It will be really nice to get away for a bit.

Hmmm...I think that's all.



Sunday, June 14, 2009

Low blog motivation

I should blog. I have stuff to say. Stuff about:
1) The ESO's last concert of the season and guest violinist James Ehnes (Friday night);
2) The new Star Trek movie, which Andrew and I went to see last night (Saturday night);
3) Taking Andrew to the airport this morning (Sunday) so he could head off to New York, New York for a conference (this is the second time in 3 days I've had to get up at 5:30 a.m. to take someone to the airport);
4) The bread baking in my oven (real, yeast containing bread);
5) etc, etc.

But at the moment my motivation is about zilch. Hence why I watched the entire Buccaneers series this morning (after returning from EIA at 7:30--it's about 5 hours long) and haven't finished my directed study proposal or gotten much done in the way of editing or practiced my French.

Ugh. Sometimes having not enough to do is worse than having too much to do.



Sunday, June 7, 2009

Mountain top picnic

Andrew and I took a short camping excursion this weekend. We merged onto the Yellowhead around 3:00 p.m. on Friday afternoon pointed west, and drove until we arrived in Jasper National Park around 3 1/2 hours later (not being native Albertans any drive greater than 1 1/2 hours is long and requires a pit stop). We reached our campsite around 7:00 p.m. and rushed to get our tent up and have some dinner. It had rained much of the day and I was worried about getting soaked as the threatening clouds hadn't dissipated. We were lucky, though. It didn't rain and we had enough time to rush off to the Miette hot springs (15 km up the road from our campsite) and soak in the tub for 1/2 hour. We returned to our camp around 9:30 and built a campfire--unfortunately at this time it started to rain and so we couldn't swing poi.

We woke up on Saturday morning around 7:40 a.m., which surprised me. Given it gets light at 5:00 a.m. these days, I expected to wake up much earlier. We were nice and toasty snuggled up in our sleeping bags, but alas, it is somewhat difficult to hike while wearing a sleeping bag. Both Andrew and I were quite cold as we prepared breakfast (pancakes), washed up and cleaned up our campsite. My toes were stinging by the time we got in the car to head off to the trail we planned to hike. I cranked the heat up to full and directed it on our feet as we drove the 15 km back up to the Miette hot springs. No, we didn't jump back in the pool, but at 11:10 a.m. we began our accent up the Sulphur Ridge Skyline.

Despite the cool temperatures we warmed quickly as we worked our way up this 5 km, trail that climbed 700 m in elevation. The scenery was beautiful, lots of trees and other plant life, plus tons of other mountains. On the way we (not too surpisingly, actually) met mostly non-Canadians. We spoke briefly with a trio of young men from Denmark, Holland and Germany, and came across another group who we suspected were from Switzerland and possibly more Germans. As we climbed closer to the top of the mountain we had to trudge through snow. Quite deep, actually. If you miss stepped you could find yourself knee deep in it. We reached the summit around 12:40 and followed the lead of another group of hikers who had nestled themselves into the side of the mountain protected from the wind. As we lunched we were visited by cute chipmunks who desperately wanted our food--but we didn't give them any.

Shortly after 1:00 p.m. we headed back down the trail. At around the 2.5 km mark we detoured onto a different trail that lead to Fiddle River. The complete trail lead all the way to Mystery Lake (12 km, one way) but we felt we didn't have time to cover the full distance. We were the first ones down this trail in a while. Snow still covered the route and there were no footprints besides ours. We followed the trail for 1/2 hour before we decided we should return to our car. We hope to check the trail out again sometime later this summer. We reached our car around 2:30 p.m., made the necessary bathroom breaks, etc and got on our way back to Edmonton. As we drove the winding road back to the main highway in Jasper, we sighted a bear. It seemed uninterested in those of us who had stopped our cars to check it out.

We reached home by 7:30 p.m. I'm not sure if we'll get out again for another one-nighter trip before our big camping excursion to Lake O'Hara.



Monday, June 1, 2009

Running accomplishments

Andrew and I ran our first official 1/2 marathon race, which we took part in on Sunday morning in Calgary. Our race started at 7:00 a.m., meaning we had to get up at 5:30 a.m. We left our friend Michelle's place at 6:00 a.m. and head over to the nearest LRT station. All runners participating in the various races that day were given permission to ride Calgary transit for free. By the time we reached the stop for the starting line the train cars were packed with runners. The race started pretty much on time. Approximately 4,000 people participated in the half and full marathon race and so it took us 5 1/2 minutes after the starting tone went off before we even crossed the starting line (each runner is timed by a RFD chip attached to their shoe, so even though it took us a while to start the race, it didn't affect our time).

We spent a lot of the first part of the race dodging people (a number of participants sign up just to walk) and trying to get into a spot where we could run at our regular speed. We actually spent much of the course passing people (which made me feel good) and we weren't passed too much by other runners. The weather was wonderful for the run. The sky was clear and sunny and there was very little wind. I had started out wearing a long sleeved top under my vest, but managed to wriggle out of it (my bib was pinned across my vest over the zipper) when I got too hot. The course at Calgary was pretty flat, which made the running fairly easy. In Edmonton we train on a course involving 2 enormous hills. Around the 15 km mark I was getting a little worried that I was going to burn out, but I managed to keep on going. Our goal was to complete the 21.1 km course in under 2 hours and our official finishing time was 1:57.19.

Interesting things along the way:
Early on in the race (maybe 1 km in) while running up a major road we came along a couple of cars that had some how managed to turn onto the course. I'm not quite sure how they missed the 1,000s of runners on the road or how they got past the road blocks, but there they were, quite unable to move. Musicians were stationed along the route including: a Celtic fiddler, an accordionist, a drum core, a steel drum band and an Elvis impersonator—I think he was the first one I'd ever seen live (he was singing "I can't help falling in love" as we ran by).

Our official stats:
Andrew: finished 991/2836 overall, 612/1114 men, 100/163 men between 25-29 yrs, finish time 1:57:19, averaged 5.34 min/km
Andrea: finished 992/2836 overall, 380/1722 women, 101/334 women between 25-29 yrs, finish time 1:57:19, averaged 5.34 min/km