Monday, December 31, 2012

Another year for the history books

I had a hard time getting into the holiday spirit this year. I'm not really sure why. Perhaps I was out of town too much during the time that everyone else was getting ready for Christmas. Perhaps I was too stressed about the big project at work that I was wrapping up. Or perhaps knowing that I wouldn't see my sister's kids over the holidays this year left me feeling a little blah about the whole thing, since really, Christmas is about the kids. Whatever the reason, I was a bit of a Scrooge. No Christmas tree, no Christmas lights, no Christmas baking (not even the giant batch of cinnamon rolls that I make and give to all of our friends), and no Christmas cards.

For my lacklustre holiday showing, I have been feeling an awful lot of guilt. (So very Catholic of me, I know...) To assuage said guilt, I damn near killed myself trying to salvage some kind of Christmas for the family members that were here. At the very last minute, I rushed around like a maniac for gifts. At the eleventh hour, I decided to cook a turkey dinner, complete with all the fixings, on Christmas Eve. I hurriedly baked a few batches of cookies. And I dug some not-so-pretty Christmas decoration out of the bowels of the basement to at least have something seasonal in the house.

In the end, and despite the added stress that I put on my A-type self to get ready for the holidays in a mere 36 hours, I had a lovely Christmas. A quiet Christmas Eve dinner with Hubby, my parents, and our neighbour at our place. Les Misérables on Christmas Day, followed by dinner at my brother's house. Snowshoeing with Fergus and baking turkey pot pies on Boxing Day. And rounding out the week by entertaining one couple chez nous for a gastronomical adventure, while being entertained by another couple chez eux the following evening.

Now I am a few pounds heavier, and feeling a little less guilty.

Except for one thing. I never really did get around to those Christmas cards...

To friends and family, for this I apologize. Hubby and I had the best of intentions to put together a photo collage of us and Fergus to send to you, along with our annual Christmas letter. But alas, we simply ran out of time. Please accept the URL linking you to this blog post as the Christmas card that you should have received, and know that we think of you always, and are happy to share our lives with all of you.

Happy New Year, from my herd to yours.

*************************************************

If some years are more eventful than others, I believe that 2012 is in this category. This was, after all, the year that Bruce Springsteen released his 17th studio album, Wrecking Ball, an important event in the life of any devoted fan, to be sure. Also one that prompted Hubby and I to travel across the Northeast to catch a few of his shows. There were other, non-Bruce milestones. Hubby turned 40 (gasp!!), we toured France, and Fergus herded sheep for the first time. It was a year full of precious memories, shared with one another, with family, and with friends. A year that we will not soon forget.

Let's start with my "old man". Indeed, one of the reasons that I love Hubby as much as I do is because he will always be older than me, which he proved by turning 40 first, earlier this spring. While some throw swanky parties to mark the occasion of four decades on Earth, Hubby wanted something a little more relaxed and low-key. So instead, we invited 40 people into our home. I fed them paella and cake, we drank wine, and Hubby was toasted and roasted by his nearest and dearest all night long.

Since Hubby's favourite thing (next to me, of course) is wine, he asked that we mark the occasion of his 40th with a trip to France. Specifically to the Bordeaux International Wine Festival, where 2km of wine tents along the shore of the Garonne River awaited us for three days in early July. Some of his closest friends joined us, as we tasted fabulous wines from the Bordeaux region and explored darling French towns such as St. Emilion. I, of course, shopped. Lots.

2km of wine tents along the Garonne River, with St. Andre in the background 

Overlooking the vineyards of St. Emilion

A wine cellar dating back to the 1600s, in St. Emilion

Standing on the streets of Bordeaux

Looking rather styling with my Bordeaux purse, my Bordeaux sunglasses, my Bordeaux ring, and my big, floppy hat 

One week before meeting friends in Bordeaux, Hubby and I toured the lavender fields of Provence, beginning and ending in Marseilles, and taking in charming destinations along the way: Aix en Provence; Chateauneuf-du-Pape; Orange; Arles; Avignon. We fell in love with the food, the wine, the people. They fell in love with my "charming" Canadian accent. Already we are planning our retirement in one of the many darling little corners of Mediterranean France. (And I am working on getting rid of that French Canadian twang...)

The not-yet-quite-ripe lavender fields of Avignon

Where's Hubby?

"Sur le pont d'Avignon, on y danse, on y danse"

Poolside at our B&B in Chateauneuf du Pape

The vineyards of Chateauneuf du Pape

Hubby in all his glory standing among the vines. 

Camarguaise bull-fighting in Arles

France was not our only travel destination in 2012. Over Easter, we found ourselves in Manhattan, so that I could live out my dream of seeing Bruce Springsteen and the E-Street Band at Madison Square Gardens. I have wanted to do this ever since seeing the DVD of the 2000 E-Street Band performance there, as part of their 1999-2000 reunion tour. Our seats were not so good, but the concert was earth shattering. Two poignant tributes to Clarence Clemons during "My City of Ruins" and "Tenth Avenue Freeze-out" left me sobbing. Watching Bruce - at 62 years old - crowd surf to the middle of the arena left me jumping up and down with excitement, wondering what it would be like to be one of those people who touch him as he surfs by. I laughed with sheer joy when he brought an eight-year-old girl up onto stage with him to sing "Waiting on a Sunny Day". By the time his Mom came out to dance in the dark with him, I was beside myself. Unlike boring Ottawa crowds, the MSG crowd was on its feet from start to finish, for 3+ hours, and his adrenaline carried deep into all reaches of the crowd to keep us all going. It was, in a word, incredible, and despite sore and tired feet, I practically floated the 15 blocks back to our hotel that night.

Look up. Look way up! The view from our seats at MSG

Hubby and I in our seats at MSG

I also knew that I had to go again. And so, when he announced additional dates, I keyed up the laptop and waited for the tickets to go on sale. Instead of picking some closer-to-us Canadian venues, I opted for Chicago (where we had never been) and New Jersey (where he is from). In Chicago, Hubby and I made it into the coveted Pit, where we found a spot in the second row. So close that Bruce stood right in front of us on at least 6 occasions, and squeezed my left hand on one of these, leaving me crying with delight, and ecstatic with the knowledge that all of the people farther back were jealous that the Boss held my hand. Eddie Vedder - an idol of Hubby's - came out to sing Atlantic City, leaving Hubby jumping up and down with excitement. Tom Morello, an insanely incredible guitar player, had both of us electrified when he sang "The Ghost of Tom Joad" with Bruce. Two weeks later, wondering what surprises would be in store for us next, we headed to Jersey to see him, where a two-and-a-half hour electrical storm delay kept the concert from starting until 10:30. When the clock struck midnight and the calendar flipped from September 22nd to September 23rd, 55,000 people broke out in a version of Happy Birthday, as the Boss turned 63. The concert did not end until 2:00 a.m, and there in the swamps of Jersey, as complete strangers threw their arms around Hubby and I during "Jungleland", I knew why I was a Springsteen fan.

Hubby and I in the Pit in Chicago

This is not zoomed in... We were that close.

Taking an architectural tour of Chicago

We closed out our year of Bruce here at home in October, when he came to Ottawa. And while I toyed with the idea of seeing him in Hamilton and Vancouver, I ended the Bruce-fest there. At least until next year, when Hubby and I are travelling to Germany to see him in May. There is already that to look forward to in 2013.

A few other trips rounded out 2012. As we always do, we travelled again to Grey Cup, this year the 100th edition of the hallowed game, held in Toronto. The Toronto Argonauts vs. the Calgary Stampeders. It was far form a great football game (Calgary forgot to show up), but as always, it was a great time spent with some of our closest friends, and meeting incredible people from across the country.

After a few too many beers in Riderville...

And finally, during the first week in December, I stole away to visit one of my best friends and his wife in Austin, Texas. We took in a Dallas Cowboys game, we took in some great live music, and we ate lots of barbecue. It was a great way to unwind a little before the hectic holiday pace set in.

While Hubby and I lived out our dreams of wine-tasting and Bruce-chasing, Fergus also had a fun-packed year. We began the year looking for ways to tone down his energy a little, which led to a whole bunch of new family activities. We enrolled him in beginner agility courses, at which he excelled - which is no surprise to us given how athletic he is. We also took him sheep-herding for the first time, which he instantly figured out and which he loved. This fall, he experienced Gatineau Park for the first time, which blew his little doggy mind as he got to run through a giant forest. And of course, he continued to make sure that Hubby and I got all the exercise we would need by keeping us active, from snowshoeing along the Ottawa River to walking around the Arboretum.

Learning the agility course with Hubby

Learning how to herd sheep

Snowshoeing

Learning how to swim

Hubby and Fergus on a fall hike through the Arboretum

After the first big snowfall

Hitting the Gatineau trails for the first time

Fergus also made a whole bunch of new friends in 2012. Like Sadie, his very first feline love:

Won't you come and play with me, Sadie?

And Bella the Husky, who goes for long runs with Fergus and I, and who is a championship tug-'o-warer:

Me with the mutts after being pulled by the powerful Husky for 8km 

Bella owns Fergus in the tug arena!

And Rudy, who loves to go for hikes through the forest with Fergus:

Chasing each other through the first snow of the season 

Making their way along the trails

And Fritz, the largest cat that Fergus has ever seen!

Getting to know each other under my supervision 

Yes, it has been a good year for Mr. Fergus, who continues to fill this house with laughter and absolute joy. We can't remember what life was like before he came to us. And we don't really want to, either.

2012 also saw our friendships deepen. From celebrating birthdays, to weddings, to the birth of children, we had the opportunity to be with many of you as you went through your own personal milestones. And we are, as always, grateful that you choose to share a part of your life with us.

And so, we are a little sad to see such a wonderful year come to an end. But we look forward to facing together all of the the surprises, adventures and challenges that 2013 will have to offer.

Happy New Year's everyone,
Love Jay, Hubby, and of course, the Beast

BARK BARK BARK BARK!!! (From Fergus...)

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Car ride

Meet Rosalita.


Yes. Rosalita is a car. A 2013 Subaru Impreza, to be exact. And she belongs to us.

...(and yes, she is named after a Bruce Springsteen song. Other options included "Candy" or "Jersey", but Hubby vetoed those)...

Although I have been driving since the tender age of fifteen-and-a-half (when I wrote the test for my learner's permit) Rosalita (or Rosie, for short) is my first car. That's over 20 years without a car of my very own. I suppose I could count the 1987 Dodge Aries K Car that my parents bought in the summer of 1995 so that I would stop borrowing their vehicles:



But who could be proud of being the driver of that ugly box on wheels? And besides, I only drove her for one summer before I went back to university and she was passed down to my sister. She hardly counts as a first car...

No, that honour goes to Rosie.

As to why I let two decades slip away without owning a car, well, I guess I just never really needed one. Both before and after Hubby, I have always lived downtown, close enough to either walk or cycle anywhere that I need to go, including work. And for really lazy days, there is always the bus, which is particularly easy for us since we live right on the transit way. Plus, I won't lie, I've enjoyed the caché that comes along with being the hipster couple that doesn't own a car. Some people really admire that, and, well, I like being admired.

But more and more, the inconveniences of not having a car have started to grate on my nerves. I've gotten tired of carrying groceries back with me on the bus. I hate having to rent a vehicle every single time I want to get away for a weekend. And most of all, I am sick of having to rely on friends to take me places when we decide to go out. As cool as it is to live the hip, urban lifestyle, not having a car has come with a price. We have had to sacrifice a certain amount of freedom and independence.

Despite my irritation, Hubby and I (mostly Hubby) were still not ready to take the automobile plunge. Until this happened:


That's right. Fergus happened. And Fergus needs a car.

First of all, he loves going for car rides. When he sees a car pull into our driveway, it takes both of us to hold him down so that he doesn't bolt through the front door and into the back seat of the car, where he will bark with delight until the vehicle starts moving.

Secondly, we like to do things with our dog. Like take him for herding lessons. Or enroll him in agility classes. Or hiking in the Gatineau Hills:


Or snowshoeing with his pals through the forest:


And, well, there are no forests or sheep farms in downtown Ottawa. Nor could the ever eccentric and completely overstimulated Fergus pass for a guide dog, which is the only way that he could get on a bus. And so instances of us doing some of this fun stuff with our pup are few and far between.

Thirdly, there is his health to consider. Although we have a vet who is a mere 3 blocks away, this clinic does not offer 24/7 emergency services. What if something happens to our guy, and we need to get him to a vet fast? And none of our car-owning friends are available? And it takes the pet taxi too long to come? What then?

And so it was that, about four months ago, when Hubby and I were going over our financial goals in preparation for our annual meeting with our financial advisor, I mentioned that I wanted us to buy a car before the end of the year. Hubby was convinced that we could go another year without the car. I told him that we could, but Fergus could not.

The next day, we had a plan to buy a new car. A few weeks later, we were making appointments for test drives. We found two that we liked: the Subaru Impreza and the Volkswagon Golf Wagon. For the next month, we agonized over the decision-making process. We liked the Impreza best, but the VW had more room. Would Fergus fit in the Subaru's hatch? What if we got it and it ended up being too small for him? What would we do then?

So we called a friend who has an older model of the Impreza, and she brought it over so that Fergus could check it out.


He fit like a glove, but we had to make doubly sure that he would fit in a 2013. So we called the dealer and asked if we could bring Fergus. Convinced that they would think this a strange request, they surprised us by saying yes. Off we went to the dealer, with the dog in tow. He was in heaven inside of a building with so many cars, frantically trying to jump into each and every one of them and whining and begging for us to take him for a ride. We finally got him into the Impreza, where he once again fit like a glove. And that's when we knew that this was our car.

A couple of weeks later and mere days before Christmas, with the help of a broker to do the negotiating for us, we closed the deal on a brand new car. On December 27th - a day when we were hit with 25+ cm of snow for the second time in less than one week - we rode the bus to the dealer's to pick her up, thankful that we had made the choice of going with a car that has all-wheel drive, and that we had asked them to equip her with a set of snow tires.

And so it is that I got behind the wheel of my very first and very own car in over two decades of being licensed to drive.

Bringing Rosie home in the snow

Although, let's be honest. It's really Fergus' car. Luckily, he's happy to share it with us. After all, someone has to chauffeur him around to all the sheep farms, forests, and other road trips that we will be going on now that Rosie is in our lives!



Wednesday, December 19, 2012

And the award goes to....

... ME!!!!!!

I feel so ill prepared! I don't even have a speech ready or anything!!!!

Thank you to Janice for nominating me for this little award. I never win anything! And I was always the last person picked for anything at school. This feels like REDEMPTION!

If you are like me, you have no idea what a Liebster Blog Award is. I had to Google it... 

The Liebster Blog Award is given to bloggers by bloggers. It is for little blogs with less than 200 followers(and I definitely qualify since I have only 5 registered followers, and four of them are my Mom). According to the almighty search engine, when you receive the award, you post 11 random facts about yourself and answer 11 questions from the person that nominated you! After that, you nominate another 11 blogs, and ask them 11 questions!

But here's the thing. The person who nominated me was nominated by someone who reduced the number of facts and questions to 5. Which is far more manageable. And so, without further ado... Here are 5 random facts about me:

1. My favourite colour is pink. When I don't wear pink, people wonder what is wrong with me.

2. I just bought tickets to go see Fleetwood Mac on April 23rd. Yes, I actually do like artists other than Bruce Springsteen!

3. I was once asked to audition for a summer gig as a lounge singer on a cruise ship. When I went to the audition, it turns out that there was no audition. The guy was too shy to ask me out the normal way so decided to be a little creepy about it by luring me to one of the music rooms on campus....

4. I used to be an interpretive tour guide at the Canadian War Museum. I dressed up as a colonial camp follower (think Laura Secord), a WWI nursing sister, a WWII factory worker, and a member of the WWII Canadian Women's Army Corps.

5. I am no longer sure of the exact natural colour of my hair. For the past six years at least, I have faithfully dyed it every 6 weeks. For all I know, I have a head full of grey...

And here are the 5 questions that I was asked:

1. What is your mantra or motivational quote?  I don't really have one. Unless you count "Get 'er done!" I'm by nature a pretty motivated person, so I guess I've never needed one...

2. What is the next big goal on your list? I have a lot of "next goals" on my list. Like "get this project at work done" and "finish your Christmas shopping" (all of which I am failing at, I might add). I guess my next BIG goal would be climbing Mount Kilimanjaro.

3. What is your favourite place in the world and why?  The Arboretum comes to mind. Sure, it's not the most exciting or beautiful place in the world, but it is where, on a day-to-day basis, I feel the happiest. Because it gives me an opportunity to enjoy nature and to re-connect with the two boys who hang out with me there, and who, incidentally, mean more to me than anyone else in the world: Mr. Hubby and Mr. Fergus.

4. What's the best way to spend a recovery day?  Well, since the furthest distance I ever run is 10k (I miscalculated once and accidentally ran 12k), I don't really need a recovery day. But the best way to spend any day is at the spa. Why should that be any different for a recovery day?

5. If you could travel and run a race anywhere, where would it be?  I don't run races. Even if they are in spectacularly beautiful surroundings. I keep my travelling for wine drinking and eating, mostly...

And of course, 5 questions to ask the 5 small-time bloggers that I wish to nominate, if they feel like playing along...

1. Do you like dogs?

2. What is your earliest pet-related memory?

3. What do you like most about blogging?

4. Are you ready for Christmas?

5. What is the best meal that you have ever, ever had?

And finally, my nominees:

1. It's Always an Adventure - A wayward Canuck who finds herself in NYC raising a family and adapting to the fast pace.

2. It's So Involved Being Me - One of the most humourous reads of my day - when she decides to actually blog about her various adventures... (It's been awhile, janey-emm... I'm just sayin').

3. La vie française - Another wayward Canuck, this time who finds herself in the most fabulous of all places, France. A friend of mine got me hooked on this blog, and, well, it makes me giggle.

4. Revel in it - A talented writer, a talented photographer, and a lover of dogs. Is there anything else to say about this blog?

5. Ottawa Dog Blog - I might be cheating a little, because I get the feeling that this one is has more than 200 followers. But it is a great place to get information about local dog events, or to just see adorable dog photos. Which always brighten my day. So rules be damned! I'm nominating these guys!

Now... back to our regularly scheduled programming...

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Everything is bigger in Texas

Well howdy, partners!!! How y'all been doin'?

"Hey Jay, what's with the accent?" you are probably saying?

I just got back from Texas, y'all!

"What in tarnation were you doing in Texas, l'il lady?" is your obvious next question. (And don't even pretend that you aren't asking it with a Texan accent now that you know where I was...)

I reckon I just needed to get away (and yes, I am going to talk like this for this entire post). A little bit of me time. And since one of my best friends lives in Austin, and since it was 25 degrees Celsius there compared to somewhere between -25 and whatever the temperature is when there is freezing rain back here, well, it just seemed like a good place to be for the first week of December. Plus my friend got us tickets to a Dallas Cowboys game. How does a rabid football fan (even one with a preference for the CFL) turn down a chance like that?

She doesn't, that's how.

So, I left my 'hood and my herd for a few days and headed on down to the Lone Star State, where this view greeted me every single morning:


And thanks to this blog, I can share some fun facts with y'all! Yeehaw!

Fun fact #1: In Canada, "barbecue" is typically a verb. As in "Let's barbecue some ribs tonight, eh?" Sometimes, it is an adjective. Like "I could really use some barbecued ribs tonight, eh?" And sometimes, it is a noun, as in "I think we need to buy a new barbecue this summer, eh?" But in Texas, "barbecue" is only ever a noun, but not in that last sense. In this sense: "Would y'all like to have some barbecue for lunch today?" The definition of this noun is: massive amounts of finger-lickin' good meat - typically brisket, pork, sausage, turkey or chicken - that has been smoked in a giant pit for hours, slathered in sauce, and served alongside potato salad, cole slaw and baked beans. It is not ever a steak or a hamburger or a chicken breast that has been thrown on some propane-powered backyard cooking tool. That is "grilling". And it is not nearly as good as barbecue.

Look at that barbecue!

Fun fact #2: It's hot in Texas. And since beer - even shitty American beer (I will never drink Miller lite ever again) - is better cold, everyone uses a beer cozy. You know, those neoprene sleeves that you slip your can or bottle of beer in to keep the condensation off your hands and to keep it crisp and refreshing. Not such a big deal, right? I mean, I go over to my neighbour's house for a beer and she almost always offers me a beer cozy. What she doesn't do though (at least I think she doesn't) is slip a beer cozy in her back pocket before she goes out every day. Because you never know when you might end up with a hankerin' for some beer. Texans carry beer cozies with them wherever they go, so that when the bartender hands them a cold one, they can slip it into their beer cozy and keep it cool. I guess I never had that problem. I just drink my beer too fast...

Drinking our beer. In a beer cozy. 

Fun fact#3: Austin fancies itself a pretty cool city. Its motto is "Keep Austin Weird", a marketing nod to the rather vibrant arts and culture scene. It is also home to two rather famous music festivals: South by Southwest (SXSW) and Austin City Limits. Can't make it down in March or September? Don't worry. Because Austin is the self-proclaimed "live music capital of the world", and there is some effin' great music there every single night. Over 200 venues, featuring jazz, blues, rock, indie, rockabilly, and of course, country. While I did not get to take in nearly as much music as I would have liked to, I did get exposed to some pretty cool spots...

...Like the infamous Broken Spoke, the dance hall where everyone goes to Texas two-step:

Pointing to the Broken Spoke

...Or Hanover's Draught Haus, the place for some open mic action on a Tuesday night, where I watched this family rock out:

Kids of Fire: Mom, Dad, 9 year old drummer and 12 year old lead vocalist, guitarist and violinist 

Rockin' out with the Kids of Fire

(Those kids were incredible!)

...Or Donn's Depot, the place in town where apparently, divorced people go to meet other divorced people. How do I know this, you ask? Well, I was invited there by a Texas cowboy. Who wanted to take me out dancing, and who, despite the ring on my wedding finger, figured I wanted to hang out with the divorced crowd. When I told him that I am happily married and that I am not, in fact, divorced, he looked at me and said, "Well, you should be, darlin', cause I sure would like to take you dancin'." What else is there to say after a line like that?

(And don't worry. I didn't go. See - no picture!)

Fun Fact #4: There are lots of bats in Austin. And not of the baseball variety. Of the winged variety. I couldn't figure out why there was a big sculpture of a bat in downtown Austin, or why you can buy t-shirts with bats on them almost everywhere you go. I mean, I wasn't in Gotham City, was I? Then, as we were driving home after a day of eating barbecue, drinking beer in beer cozies, and checking out a local arts fair, we saw this:



Swarms and swarms and swarms of bats, leaving their daytime sleeping quarters (seemingly under the overpass) at dusk to go dine on bugs. Eerie. And freaking neat!

Fun fact #5: The Fort Worth police drive Porches. 'Nuff said.


Fun fact #6: The Dallas Cowboys stadium is HUGE. How huge, you ask? So huge, that the Statue of Liberty could stand on the 50-yard line and her torch would never touch the closed roof.  The screen alone is 7 storeys high, and spans from one 20 yard line to the other. It is as big as 2,000 52-inch television sets strung together. And it's in HD. The stadium fits 105,000 people: 85,000 in seats and another 20,000 who hang out in the "Party Pass" zones behind the end zones. And it only cost $1.2 billion to construct. Yeehaw!!!

Heading down to the 100 level to our seats

This is where we were sitting

Tom Landry

Getting some love from a Cowboy mannequin

Standing on the star

Fun fact #7: The Dallas Cowboy Cheerleaders are not allowed to date the football players. Which must be hard because they are pretty cute!

This is what a touchdown looked like from our seats

Fun fact #8: While it is not rare to see the Oscar Meyer Weinermobile driving around town, it is rare to stumble upon it in the parking lot. So when you do, you have to take a picture:


And that, my friends, pretty much sums up my Texas adventure. Guaranteed that I will be back one day. And I'll have my beer cozy ready!