Sunday, 25 September 2011


Two weeks! Two whole weeks of wash your hands, sweep the floors, don't serve food that has fallen on the ground, if you have salmonella you probablly shouldn't be working, if someone is dying call 911, don't drink poisonous substances no matter how tasty they look, and despite Disneys Ratatouille, rats do not improve your establishment. Two whole weeks and finally come this Wednesday morning at 6:30 am I will be up to my elbows in butter and flour.

Don't get me wrong I did enjoy some elements of the safety classes. I learned how to efficiently design a kitchen, how to deal with suppliers, and that you can have a compost system in your restaurant and it won't break any health and safety codes. Yipee! I learned that if someone gets hit by a car and they have a bone jutting out of their leg that you should call 911 and not text your past roommate who is a medic that lives in Ontario. For the record this was a scenerio we had to act out in class but our teacher was busy with other class mates at the time. Eventually our teacher did come around to help and showed us how to do a donut bandage to immobilize the bone. So if you ever get hit by a car and have a bone jutting out of your leg you can call me and give the ambulance a day off.

While all of this was fascinating and I thoroughly enjoyed the gruesome emergency horror stories, I already know how to save a life. #1 I am a woman and have 13 years of babysitting and nannying experience under my belt. My maternal instincts kick in so fast it would make your swoon, and #2 I am Mama Jo. Enough said. All sillyness and conceit aside I really did enjoy those 2 weeks of safety training. It gave me opportunities to get to know my classmates better, make some friends, and have some laughs. My Serve Safe teacher was a sheep farmer so you can imagine all the sheep jokes he was pulling out left, right, and center, and if you can't imagine them just ask my dad. These past two weeks gave me the opportunity to build a routene, schedule my life, and gave me space to sort out what I want to accomplish this year. They were a good buffer zone, an extended period of grace that I didn't know I needed.

However, my chef whites came in on Thursday, we had an extensive tour of the pastry shoppe, and first and second year kitchens and along with the rest of the class we are itching to get into the kitchen! We can't wait to make bread, pipe chocolate, and be covered in butter and flour all day. We had a very long class on Friday where the chefs walked us through what a regular day would like and then we watched the film "Kings of Pastry" an inspiring and heart pounding documentary about French pastry chefs. I suggest you rent it for your next movie night, unless you have a heart condition, as one classmate put it "This is so intense! It's worse than a horror movie!"

So here I am, painfully counting down the hours to Wednesday morning and at the same time wishing they would never come. What am I doing here? Why am I in PEI? What more could I possibly learn about the pastry world? As previously stated, I'm Mama Jo. Yes I have these little waves of jitters and skeptizism and yes I have moments where I want to turn and run like a dog with his tail between his legs. But then I remember I am a strong, confident, fearless woman. Bathed in sunlight and laughter. Blessed with prayer and encouragement, and divinely gifted in optimism. And to top all of that I made a Beef Wellington for a Christmas dinner, the very menu item Chef Ramsy himself discourages everyday house wifes from making. If I can make a Beef Weelington I can make bavarian cream, brioche, and puff pastry.Theres no chance I'm turning my back now.

Sunday, 18 September 2011

Wish you were here

I wake up some days as if I am stepping into a dream. It is hard to believe I am living on the island. Somedays it seems too perfect to be an actual place, but then I encounter some one swearing and honking their car horn and I realize Charlottetown is still on planet earth, no matter how much I wish it resided in Neverland.

Slowly Charlottetown and I have gotten to know each other better and the awkward first introduction stage is over. I am comfortable with my surroundings and even if I find myself in an unfamiliar section of the city I can find my way home very easily. I make it a habit at some point during the week or weekend to take a long walk or bike ride to undiscovered territory and get lost for a moment. I feel my heart rushing in angste, my eyes dart around searching for a landmark, I scan the street signs and visualize a birds eye view of the city in my head. Finally I spot the three pointed bell towers of St. Dunsants Basillica, the position of the sun tells me I am in west end of the city and home is due east. I relax, take a deep breath and feel a shiver of excitement as I meander through quiet uncharted residential streets.

Let me paint you a picture of my daily commute to school:

My bike ride to school starts off slow. After securing my back pack and coffee to the basket on my bike with a bungy cord I hop on and glide out the drive way. The city is just starting the morning rush to work so traffic is minimal. I turn right onto Sydney street and head straight for the Culinary and Tourism Center. The convent on the left hand side is silent and stately in the morning light, tucked behind three large maples. The first half of Sydney street is small and thin, lined with equally sized houses of all different colours. The palette of houses changes from barn red, ochre, olive green, canary yellow, maroon, faded eggplant purple, and Tobermory blue. Regular white, cream, and toupe shaded houses are rare not only here but all over the city. One side of the street is boardered with red fences and over grown vines. If I were walking on the sidewalk the long stretch of their arms would gladly entangle me. One vine inparticular covers the east facing side of a house and lazily drapes its long leafy arm over the hydro wires above the street. It looks like a monster from a Dr. Seus book. Sydney street begins to crest as it nears St. Dunsants basillca and I peddle harder, working my way steadily up the hill. Relieved to be at the top I take a deep breath and begin the speedy descent down the hill. I zip past St. Dunsants taking quick glances, admiring the masonry, scrulptures, and rose window. Not more than a stones throw away I find myself between 2 Irish pubs on either side of the street. Hmmm, a convent, a Roman Catholic basillica, and two pubs all on the same street, it's a wonder it wasn't named O'Sydney street. The street opens up after crossing Queen and a sweet yet deceptively brute ocean wind blows against me. For now I embrace it, but soon enough that wind will carry an arsenal of ice and snow making my commute to class a frigid nightmare. My bike screeches to a hault infront of the bike rack and I secure the rickety, duct tape vehicle to the rack, and after arriving at my destination gingerly walk to class.

This is just one lovely pocket of the city that I have the pleasure of enjoying everyday. I could go on for ages about the granduer and yet simply beauty of other parts of the city. Before I go let me share one more special place with you. Victoria park is my favourite place in Charlottetown, there isn't a week that goes by that I don't find time to meander through the outdoor sanctuary. Woven throughout the 58 acre park are trails, a large playing field, tennis court, base ball diamond, play ground, and a bush with a dozen twisting paths all securly held in place by a board walk stretched along the edges of the water. Sometimes I sit on my favourite park bench, nestled between two grandmother shaped maple trees, one thin and spry the other filled out and stately, and watch the enchanting silver and saphire waves waltz between the fishing trollies and sail boats. I am blessed to be able to call this home.

Obviously I am choosing to highlight the better parts of Charlottetown, but like I said earlier it has its flaws like any other place on earth. People become impatient and yell at each other, they smoke and leave trails of the dirty habit, when I walk past a group of jaded teen ages I over hear their gripings and grumblings accompanied by sharp language, there is more than one creepy old man in this town, and I find negativety and down cast hearts even among my classmates. Was I naive in thinking that Charlottetown would be constant butterflies, Celtic music, charming Island men, and smiles around every corner? Yes. Does Charlottetown have butterflies, Celtic music, charming Island men, and smiles around every corner? Yes. You just have to know how to look for them.    

Sunday, 11 September 2011

Learning to ride a bike

Just so ya'll know I do know how to a ride a bike but I thought it fitting to use this line as this week has been full of learning opportunites.

Lesson #1: I actually had to relearn how to ride my bike a little bit. I was a little wobbly at first especially turning corners, gaining speed and letting other traffic know which direction I was going in. Thankfully Charlottetown has numerous quiet streets for me to practice on and when I came to busier streets I hopped off and like a coward walked my bike on the side walk. But hey, a coward today is hero alive tomorrow.

Lesson #2: PEI does church differenly. First of all if you are new EVERY BODY notices. Every where I turned there was another friendly face welcoming me. Also they serve coffee and goodies through out the service. So if you finish one cup you can quietly go grab another. The gentleman in front of me had 3 coffees in 2 hours. And you think I talk fast. After singing they have five minutes of mingling where people walk around to meet and greet and chat it up, over more coffee of course (I like how this church handles coffee). Offering, prayer and dismissing of children to sunday school is pretty standard. They have a moment in every service to lay hands over people who are ill, going on missions, or need extra prayer. I witnessed a prayer of healing for a gentleman on sunday. I believed the prayers were genuine and faithful but the man remained ill. I discovered I wasn't wrestling with the question of whether or not God wanted to heal him in that moment, but I was left pondering of where the line was between faith and cockiness. I also found that the service included a lot of things that may seem distracting to an Ontario congregation: children giggling, people engaging in quiet conversation even during the singing, people replenishing their coffee during the sermon etc. Back home this would not be acceptable. Church has to be structured to allow the Holy Spirit be be ushered in. But I wonder how many times we miss the blessing of fellowship when we are so focused on structuring the Holy Spirit.

Lesson #3: Don't wear a skirt to church when your mode of trasportation is a bike. A) It is difficult to get on ones bike. B) It is difficult to pedal. C) There is always the paranoia that you are giving people a free show even though your skirt is snuggly tucked under your behind. I was faced with this challenge and the thought did occure to me that I could run up stairs and change but that would make me late so I stomped my foot and said to myself, "If Hetty King can do it in a full length dress then I sure as hell can do it in a skirt!"

Lesson #4: Banana bread can mend a broken heart, solve world hunger, and bring world peace but it can't make the rain go away. However it does make it more tollerable. Try eating a warm slice of banana bread fresh out of the oven on a rainy day with your afternoon coffee and tell me there isn't a smile on your face.

Lesson #5: If you have asperations to be a pastry chef make sure you sign up for the class with Austrian instructors. Their accents alone are worth the tuition. Phrases like, "We are here to have fun and to learn while having fun," sound like a line from the Sound of Music when said with an Austian accent, for example, "Vee are here to haf fvun and to luurn vile hafing fvun." Also Canadians don't know how to pronounce the word 'chocolate' find an Austrian an he'll teach you the right way.

Lesson #6: Orientation is the same every where! There is something remarkable about the amount of energy faculty and staff can conjure up during orientation, and even more remarkable to see it all dissapear the day classes start. There is always a big welcoming event, usually held in a sports center, where all new frosh are hearded to like cattle and handed free things every where they turn. There is always that one guy at said event that is the loudest, most energetic, and will cheer at anything. He will stand up even if there is no cause for a standing ovation, clap his hands, scream as loud as he can, and shake his behind as if he were trying to fling off a leech. I had such a man at my orientation on Thursday, it was more fun watching him than the shenanigans on stage. And of course there is always free food, and as every good moneyless, hardworking student knows NEVER SAY NO TO FREE FOOD! Who cares if it tastes like cardboard.

Lesson #7: Check your alarm clock the night before to make sure your landlords cats haven't been playing with it and accidentaly turned the volume down so can't hear your alarm thus making you panic and throwing you into a mad dash to get to orientation on time.

Lesson #8: Double check the time on your orientation schedule to ensure that your event starts at 10:00am not 9:00am so that you can avoid future panics and mad dashes (see above lesson).

Lesson #9: People are stupid. So instead of wasting ear space listening to their stupidity excuse yourself politely and go for a nice long walk. Along the way you will bump into pleasant, spunky elderly ladies out for a morning speed walk.

Lesson #10: Smile at people while you are walking around. I did not realize how big of a snob I was until I took a self guided tour through the city one evening. In my defense I was afraid that if I seemed to chipper I would be a target for someone to take advantage of me, or I would look really foolish. But as I walked along, head slightly tucked and eyes shifting from sidewalk to scenery I heard a lovely voice say, "Hello." I looked and there was a woman sitting on her porch enjoying the evening air and passer bys and I realized, "I am so rude!" So I tossed my fear aside, lifted my head and gingerly said, "Hello," back. Now I smile at everyone and my evening walks are the highlight of my week.

Lesson #11: "I work well under pressure," is a lame excuse for procrastinating. The only things this line works for are diamonds.

Lesson #12: There is no occassion too dull or simple that God doesn't want to hear about. I often found myself spending my morning bike ride to school, or my walks shadowed in conversation with the Lord. I found that in talking with Him I saw need for prayer, and scenery for celebration. I could feel Him whisper peace, gentleness, and reassurance into my heart. The verse from Ephesians 6:18 became resonant in my heart this week. "Pray at all times and on every ocassion in the power of the Holy Spirit." God always wants to hear from you, no matter what state you are in.

Lesson #13: Reading a pastry dictionary in the park doesn't make it any less a dictionary.

Monday, 5 September 2011

It's Official

Hello from Prince Edward Island!

I am proud to say that I am an official resident of PEI. Life on this pocket sized province has been a whirl wind thus far so before you read any further make yourself extra comfy.

First off the journey to PEI was exceptionally long. My parents and I thought it would be smart to go through the States to avoid any huricane Irene issues, however, she had other plans. In New York I-90 was closed from Albany to Minoa due to flooding. When we pulled over at a gas station to map out a new route a friendly biker, who had viking horns on his helmet I might add, saw us struggling and came over to help. He put us on hwy 5 and it was smooth sailing all the way to Fonda. Once at Fonda we found the traffic backed up for 14 kms! A state trouper told us the water was 8 ft above the bridge on the other side of Fonda and that the river had flooded to widths of 18 ft! So we pulled over once again and recalculated. It was close to 11:30 by the time we arrived at our hotel. What should have been an 8 hour drive turned into 14!

The next day we had plans to visit Wilson Castle Vermont but the whole lower valley near Wilson had been washed out. So like any good road trip troupers we pulled over into a visitor station and asked how to get to our next destination, Bangor Maine. The friendly and wirery man told us exaclty how to get there and suggested that if we still wanted to do some site seeing to head up to Burlington Vermont. With nothing better to do and feeling pretty good about the day ahead we took his advice. Boy was that a miscalculation. Don't get me wrong driving through the mountains and stopping along the lake side in Burlington was lovely but adding site seeing to an already long driving day was unwise. Again it was late by the time we reached Maine but with the promise of hitting Canadian ground the next day we slept well.

Day three of driving proved to be the best yet. We took our time leaving the hotel and even stopped to ooo and awww at a spectaculat view of the some mountain that I can't remember the name of. Before we knew it we were in New Brunswick. We had never been more excited to be on Canadia soil!

After 3 days of zig zagging through the States, being rerouted almost 200 km out of our way, and several arguments with Lizza our GPS we arrived in beautiful PEI. The scenery is everything that the brochures advertise it as. Lush green fertile soil floating on a delicious blue ocean and wrapped securely with a red ribbon of sand. The first hour of arriving at my apartment went by at warp speeds. We unloaded the car in record time, parked my bike, checked in with the landlords and then mom and I made our war to the theatre. It was the last night for Anne of Green Gables the Musical so if I was going to see it, it had to be now. The musical was fantastic!! The set was stunning! The colours, costume and characters were rendered phenomenally and the architecture of the theatre itself was breath taking. When the applause had died Mom and I walked backed to my apartment taking in the soft Charlottetown night life and after a long day I slept soundly in my new bed.

The next two days that followed I took mom and dad on a little site seeing around the island. We visited some of my favourite spots on the island like Basin Head, The Preserve Company, and Cows Ice Cream. With mom at helm of Edna (our Toyota Camry) we stopped at every look out along the shore line, every beach and every light house. We ate lobster, searched the sand for star fish and sand dollars and I even got a sun burn, not only does my hair match the red soil but now my skin does too. I got to see some amazing things with my parents: the tide rushing out and creating a rip current, an immature eagle snatch a fish out of the water, and a bag piper seranade a tour bus full of spunky elderly.

But now my parents are gone, my room is fully set up, I've had a good cry and my hands hurt from writing all this down. I've had my moment of regret and I'm sure I'll have a couple more but I feel good about being here. I'm finding little things that remind me of home everyday and I feel secure. However that ocean breeze is a quick reminder that I am not in Ontario anymore and no amount of clicking my heels will get me home. But in a strange way being so far from home is sort of encouraging. I can't bail out suddenly and I can't pack up and leave. I have to stick it out. So stick it out I shall, with a smile on my face and a spring in my step.