Sunday, 27 November 2011

It's beginning to look a lot like . . .

It is less than a month away from Christmas and Charlottetown has thrown itself into preparations for the festive season. There are Christmas trees on every street corner in the downtown hub. They are simply decorated with ribbon, white lights, and Christmas balls. Large Christmas light displays are hung on the Confederation Center walls and front yard of the Anglican Church. Province house has a huge filled out Christmas tree on each of their balconies and rich sagging pine boughs under the windows with deep red ribbons nestled in the centers. Homes of Islanders are dazzling with Christmas lights and Christmas trees are sitting in front windows. Confederation mall is a bustle with holiday shoppers and a Santa village sits on the top floor complete with a huge maroon sleigh brimming with brightly wrapped gifts. The ground floor is not home to one but 2 massive 14 foot Christmas trees with gold and silver Christmas ornaments. Walking around Charlottetown I feel like Cindy Loo Who gazing up in wonder and awe my toes and fingertips tingly and a smile bursting from my chest.

Wednesday marked the first real snow fall of the year. When I woke up I could just see a sliver of morning sun struggling to break through the heavy clouds before being swallowed. As I walked through the park to school I counted all the trees that were completely naked of leaves. All 48 trees were stripped, their colourful garments laying at their feet in a rumpled mess. The trees looked sleepy against the bland sky. No doubt they were in deep slumber dreaming of spring and were unaware of the threat of snow against them.

At lunch time I sat in the cafeteria facing the window looking out into the bay as I always do. The water was uncomfortably still. I have never seen the ocean this quiet before. The sky and water matched in colour and the horizon bled into each other, making it difficult to know where the sky began and the ocean ended. The tension in the air rose, and it seemed like the whole Island was holding its breath in excitement and dread. At 2:00pm the first snow flakes fluttered down from the sky and continued their glorious assault on the Island until the next morning.

As the day folded into evening the roads thickened with heaps of snow and the only sensible activity to partake in was sitting by the window to watch the winter scene play out. But sitting there, watching impatient snow, I felt immensely sad. My heart turned down cast, my eyes welled up with tears and I curled up in bed, holding Super Bowl tightly against my chest and I wept bitterly. I was homesick. I missed the first snow ball fight of the year on Waterloo campus. I missed the sound of people running through halls to dash outside and frolic in the fresh fallen fluffs. I missed the way school work would get discarded for an entire evening and the only thing that made sense was to sing Christmas carols around the piano until your voice was spent. I missed the smell of my mothers kitchen after putting up the Christmas tree, and the sweet aroma of apple wood burning in the furnace. I missed home.

But one cannot cry forever. After drenching Super Bowl in salty sorrows I moved onto drying activities. I attacked the kitchen table with wrapping paper, ribbons, and boxes and flung myself into the art of Christmas wrapping. I tuned my iPod to my "Christmas Epic" playlist and spent the evening in wrapping bliss.

The next morning brought a new set of challenges. Charlottetown lacks in sidewalk removal skills but I'm sure a lesson from my dad would sharpen them up. Having no clear sidewalk to walk to school on I did what the locals so confidently did and walked down the middle of the street. Oh sure there are cars coming but a kick step out of the way prevents you from being run over. Motorists seem to expect the increase in pedestrian traffic and have adjusted their driving accordingly. That morning stroll to school was delicious. Fresh fallen slow lightly covered houses, trees, and play ground equipment. The air was fresh and crisp and tingly. I wanted to play hooky and crunch through the snow all day.

On Thursday evening I had the opportunity to see a real live NHL Hockey Game! Well not exactly but it was the closest I was going to get while on the Island. PEI is home to the Rockets a hockey team that holds as much prestige and talent as the OHL. It was the PEI Rockets verses the Moncton Wild Cats. The first period was slow and uneventful with Moncton scoring two goals. But by the second period The Rockets had a fire under their ass and brought the game up to 4-2.

A fight almost broke out in the third period but the refs broke it up before it got started, much to the crowds dismay. I had seats right behind the penalty box and as the two angry players entered the box, they exchanged a sharp signal that suggested they would finish what they started. But unfortunately they didn't keep that promise, perhaps next time.

The third and final period came to a close and the crowd erupted. The Rockets took home the glory with a stunning 7-4 win. Good job PEI. What makes the red sand red? Blood! Moncton blood!

What would Christmas be with a Santa Claus parade? On Saturday night, just as the sun slipped into dreamless slumber, the 13th annual Charlottetown Santa Claus parade commenced. The evening was chilly but not too cold that we couldn't enjoy the parade and with most of the snow from Wednesday melted the streets and sidewalks were clear and dry. For an hour and a half University avenue was a stream of brightly coloured floats, free candy canes, marching bands and fire engines decked out to the nines. Thank goodness there were no house fires that night, imagine a fire engine with a giant Frosty the Snow Man showing up at your house to rescue you. I’m not sure which would be more terrifying: your house going up in flames or a 12 foot inflated Frosty. But of course the parade wouldn’t be a parade without the big man himself: Santa Claus. It was a magical evening.

So here I sit, with just under a month to go before Christmas and only 2 and a half weeks until I see Ontario soil. My homesick has been replaced with excitement, my Christmas shopping almost done, and the realization that this week starts a new rotation. Starting Tuesday I will be back on morning shift and rotating into the Lucy Maud lunch department. I will have an opportunity to make exceptionally fancy desserts for well to do paying customers. I am looking forward to shifting my attention from chocolate to crème brule and gebakjes, and to tell you the truth the 5:00am wake up call doesn’t look too shabby either. It is all one step closer to Christmas. One step closer to home.  

                                                       Go Rockets! Go!

                                        Misbehaving Monctoners

                                         Raspberry filled dark chocolates

                                                 Chocolates are messy

                                      Old school fire engine all decked out.

                              There's that 12 foot Frosty I was telling you about. Yikes!

                                              Here comes Santa Claus!!

Sunday, 20 November 2011


If I were to sum this week up in with one word it would be: full. I have been blessed with an overwhelming amount of adventures and to be honest I've had one too many pastries this week and I feel like the only thing that will fit me are my Friday pants. Sigh. But amidst this bounty there were lessons learned. 

Lesson #1: You can kicked out of class for anything!
It's happened folks. I got kicked out of class for excessive giggling. In my defense it was the second test of the day and my brain was a little batty from studying. On Monday afternoon I had a test in my business communications class. It went quite well and I am confident that I passed with flying colours. After I finished writing the test and handed it in, I sat quietly at my desk and doodled a sketch of my future wedding dress in my notebook. My friend, Kendra, having finished her test as well turned to me and we engaged in whispered conversation:
Kendra: "I want to go home and check my marks."
Me: "You want to go home and check your bird?"
Kendra: "What kind of question is that?"
Me: "You could have a chicken roast in the oven. It makes sense!"

Needless to say that little miscommunication tipped the scale and we erupted in giggles. Aware that fellow classmates were still writing their tests we tried desperately to stifle our giggles but it was excruciatingly difficult. Unable to hold it back any longer I burst out laughing! My teacher, walked over to me slowly, and asked in a low dissaproving voice, "Joelle, do you need to step outside for a moment?" I nodded sheepishly and shuffled out of class embarrassed. I ran to the bathroom and giggled and laughed until all my smiles were gone. After calming down, I timidly tip toed back into class and continued doodling, avoiding eye contact with Kendra. Hey! How come she didn't get kicked out? She started it!

Lesson #2: How to work with Chocolate
I'm sure the idea of working with chocolate stirs up fanciful images in your mind. Huge bowls full of velvety chocolate. The rich aroma filling the air intoxicating your senses and seducing you until you have no choice but to stuff your face. Even when your stomach is screaming for you to stop eating your tongue and cheeks are begging for more of that luscious flavour. Sigh.

Now getting chocolate to that perfect flavour, snap and texture is a whole other battle. First you have to melt the chocolate to 50 degrees celsius using a double boiler and then tempered it to 31 degrees celsius using the tabling or seeding method. If the chocolate is not tempered right it will not set, be difficult to work with, and will dry with ugly streaks and spots. Once this happens you have to start all over again, something I had to do all too often this past week.

After several melt downs, a few shed tears, and more than one vicious growl at my chocolate, by Friday I finally got the hang of it and was making chocolate cigars left, right and center like a pro. The Chef even commented on my craft and said it look professional. It was a good way to end the week.

Lesson #3: Oats and kitty litter.
On Tuesday we had a lock down drill. I have never had a lock down drill in my life so the prospect of experiencing something potentially dangerous was exhilarating. The alarm sounded and we had instructions to hide in a dark corner away from any windows or doors. Chef Christian explained lock down drill as playing hide and seek. Although if you are sought you get shot.

The alarm sounded and like a herd of 12 years at a birthday party we scrambled to find the nearest hiding place. Half of the class hid at the far end of the kitchen by the stoves, while the rest piled into the dry storage room. The dry storage room is no Hilton sweet, it's about the size of the average bathroom. So imagine shoving 8 people in there all giggling and squirming, with the lights off and door shut. My friend Jillian, took this moment to give some useful and yet random advice: "If this were an actual lock down and we were stuck in here for 4 hours we could pee in the box of oats. Oats are like kitty litter. Just saying." Thanks Jillian. We erupted in cascading laughter! Needless to say if it were an actual lock down our laughing would have given us away and we would all be dead.

Lesson #4: Out crafting the craft fair.
I would consider myself a seasoned craft fair goer. This past weekend I had the pleasure of attending another craft fair. This one in particular is hailed as the be all and end all of PEI craft fairs thus making it my third successful craft fair outing. At each one I have gained perspective, wisdom and tricks on how to survive. It is my pleasure to impart this knowledge onto you.

Step 1: Shop with a friend.
It always helps to have a second opinion and someone to share the experience with. When you feel fatigued and restless they are a companion, encourager and voice of reason. Grab a friend and be prepared for an afternoon of treasure seeking.

Step 2: Pay in cash.
Venders that accept visa and debit as payments are few and far between. Hit up your bank before heading to the nearest craft fair with at least $100-$200 cash in a variety or small to large bills and change.

Step 3: Dress for success.
Overheating at a craft fair can make you antsy, short tempered and make you loose your focus. Stay cool. While the temperature outside is festively chilly, temperatures in the craft fair can reach tropical proportions with all those people milling about. Take advantage of coat check if they have one, leave the coat in the car, or wear light layers. Allowing your body to breathe comfortably will enable your brain to think clearly about your purchases.

Step 4: Working the system.
Craft fairs are overwhelming! Usually held in gymnasiums, cafeterias or community centers they are wall to wall with hundreds of original work. However hobbies are bound to over lap, jewelry, hand knit tea cozies, bird houses, and Christmas ornaments are popular, so don't drop all your money on Vender #2's hand woven beaded necklace when Vender #17 may have a better product and better price.

The trick is to walk around the entire craft fair at least once. Walk in a counter clockwise or clockwise direction working from the outside in. Stay at each vender for no more than 2 minutes. Quickly evaluate the product they are selling and keep in mind two important things: price and craftsmanship. Vender #2 may have better prices but Vender #17 secures his product with wire rather than hot glue. The number one thing you have to remember about craft fairs is that you are paying for craftsmanship and quality. Any yahoo with a hot glue gun can whip up something craft like but it takes skill and patients to make a masterpiece.

Step 5: Make the kill.
Having looked over the venders and evaluated each product, you have made your decision. March confidently and swiftly to the vender of choice and lay your money down. Grab the star fish shaped tea cozy and hold your head high. Well done, well done.

Lesson #5: You are never too old to colour. 
Last Sunday I had the privilege of helping out with the kids ministry at my church. For a solid half an hour I bounced around like a bunny, played ring around the rosie 8 times and laid on my stomach to colour a particularly goofy picture of Noah’s Ark. The simple joy of swiftly moving a blue crayon back and forth on a page was delightful. Colouring is a joyous activity at any age. So run to your nearest dollar store, grab that colouring book off the top shelf, you know the one, with the big daisies and puppies on the front. Buy 3 boxes of crayons and stretch out on your living room floor for an afternoon of childish bliss. Here's an added bonus: we're old enough to know how to stay in the lines! Look what I can do mommy!

Yes, this week was plump with laughter, chocolate, tea and vicious craft fair goers. I laughed, I cried, and I had to out smart more than one spunky old lady before they snatched up the sparkling green and brown Christmas ornament I was admiring. But as each week slowly folds into the next, the air gets a little colder, the sky is constantly held in a dull purple grey, snow a very real and delightful threat, and with every stroll to Starbucks for my caramel macchiato I notice more and more Christmas lights and decorations adorning the streets of Charlottetown. All these are delicious signs that my favourite season is soon to arrive.


Sunday, 13 November 2011

Go big or go home

The best part of this past week was my weekend. Not to say that school wasn't enjoyably challenging as usual, but it had its fair share of bumps and EGRM's (Extra Grace Required Moments). However I do have an excepionally well crafted birthday cake to show for it. I made a delicious marble pound cake for a 90th birthday party. If I turned 90 I'd want chocolate flavoured butter and a wheel of gouda cheese but to each his own.

My weekend started with a bang on Friday morning, Remembrance Day. My friend Sam has a boyfriend who is in the army and he had the honour of firing off the canons for the salute at 11:00am. I have never seen the firing of a canon before so I jumped at the chance to see it in real life. Despite the hurrican speed winds and driving rain I braved the weather and walked with a delightful spring in my step to the wharf. I found shelter behind a post 50 feet away from the canons. A handful of soldiers were setting them up and directing the twelve other civilians that had come to watch to a safe distance. Sam arrived and like a pair of army wives waiting for our sailors to come home we bunked behind the post, leaning out occasionally to wave at the soldiers and get some choice photos of the canons. The soldier in charge gave us the signal to cover our ears and yelled a command and the first shot of the canon was fired. The delicious sound of the canon blast ripped through the air, the shock wave ripple through the cobble stone and shook my legs, it took my breath away. My reaction was the same for the following shots.

After it was all said and done Sam and I ventured up to the cenotaph and managed to catch the end of the parade. I have never felt more humbled and proud of my country. When the veterans drove by my heart exploded in gratitute and I applauded vigorously. Sam and I placed our poppies on the wreaths at the foot of the cenotaph and then parted ways, each of us pondering what this day means for us on the walk home.

Did you know that Remembrance day is a stat holiday in every territory and province except Ontario and Quebec, according to Wikipedia? Odd and frankly, irreverant. I can understand why Quebec doesn't observe it as a holiday, they are just a whole other world, especially when driving, but Ontario? We are home to the capital! So here is my thought folks: let us make a motion to recognize Remembrance Day as a nation wide stat holiday. Let us over fill Parliments mail box with this request. No, let us demand it! I am not saying this because the island character of finding anything to celebrate so there is a holiday has rubbed off on me, I am saying this because I am Canandian Day. Remembrance Day is a dedication to the memory of past veterans and the support of present ones. To all you pacifists out there this does not suggest that war is to be celebrated, it recognizes that war is hard to understand and as long as we are human war is inevitable in any capacity. But this doesn't have to be the final answer, I believe that one day war will be snuffed out, however long that may take. So for the time being let us show our respect for the people in the war and not the cause.

Saturday and Sunday were a blur to me. I spent most of them shopping at what better place but an island and east coast craft fair! Saturday night was filled with browsing antique tables, sampling island potatos and cheese cake, and riffling through piles of treasures. All the while jaw dragging on the floor as I gazed at the continual wave of island creativity and craftsmanship. I had many educational conversations with venders about their porduct, how was it made? Where was it made? How long have you been doing this? Most of the answers that came back were similar. "It was made in my basement on my moms old kitchen table and I've been doing it for 20 odd years."

Though Saturdays craft fair was lovely, it favoured to the antique side of things and already found objects. Sundays craft fair was handmade crafts wall to wall. I have never seen so much creativity in one room and it was all local! I wanted to support every artist there and if I weren't a student I probablly would have. There was pottery spun to perfection with crisp artistic detail, jewlery crafted so eligantly it would have sold millions at Tiffany's, wood workings so delicate and stunning it took my breath away, and paintings vivid and saturated in rich colour it looked like a scene from a Disney film. I didn't want to leave, I wanted to stay wrapped in this air of original and imagintive craftsmanship. But what I loved most about these craft fairs is the connection between the artists. Venders would leave their stations and wander over to venders of a similar craft. They would trade secrets, stories of how they came to be a business, and what inspires their work. When asked why they do it the resounding answer is: Because I love it.

The next best thing about these craft fairs is that every artist there is two pennies shy from being as poor as a church mouse and yet they all buy each others work. It's not about the money, it's about supporting and encouraging one another. Being a starving artist myself I could not resist the erge to support these artists. I didn't just buy their product and walked away, I engaged in converstation, complimented on their work, and encouraged them. Sometimes genuinely marvelling at and appreciating an art piece is just as wonderful as buying it, although shelling out a few bucks to help pay the bills doesn't hurt either, wink, wink. Did I mention I was a starving artist?

After a successful day at the craft fair I headed home, my new found treasures tucked under my arm. As I stepped outside I heard a ribbon of music drifting through the air. My first thought was that it was some comfortable back ground music for a cafe near by, but as I rounded the corner there was a man sitting there dripping the streets of Charlottetown in sonorous clarinet melodies. My heart melted and it was the perfect ending to my day. I gingerly walked up to him, pulled out a few dollars and plunked them into his open case. He stopped playing immediately, stood up and introduced himself to me, "Hello darling, how are you? My name is Joseph, thank you so much. Very kind of you." His voice was as melodious as his intrustment thick in a chocolate Italian accent, his eyes kind and genuinely grateful. We chatted for a minute he told me his life story, he embraced me and then went back to doing what he loved to do.

I was all smiles on the way home my heart bursting with inspiration. Could this day get any better? Yes! While sitting on my favourite bench in the park, sipping an exceptionally well made carmel macchiato, I witnessed a dazzling PEI sunset. The sky looked like plums in winter and pink ballet shoes on the windowsill with loud streaks of gold. Like something out of a Hitchcock film, hundreds of crows came to roost in the trees by the Governors house, and across the water down by the army base a marching band was practicing. The whole evening was loud and resounding. It's as if the world was celebrating and taking pride in itself and so it should be. The world is a work of divine Craftsmanship. Molded, woven, painted and spun in so much tremendous detail that not even the most gifted artist can capture.

So here is my charge to you: wander aimlessly for an afternoon, absorb the texture of sunlight on rocks, spend hours following the map of viens on a maple leaf, and simply sit still and drink in your surroundings. And when you think of it breath a prayer of thanks to the Artist. The beauty around us is a divine gift.   

                                             Me icing the cake with chocolate butter cream.

                                                    Loading the canon

                                                Crazy weather. Crazy girl.

                   That is a loaf of bread, chiffon cake, and chocolate cook book. Just a regular day.

Sunday, 6 November 2011

A Change in Command

As October folds into November, so too does my life fold into a page of adjustment and change.

The start of this week marked the change of a new kitchen rotation. I am no longer on the morning shift and will be in afternoons for the next month. This means no more waking up at 5:00am but do you think my internal clock knows the difference? Not a chance. I find myself waking up between the hours of 5:45 and 6:30 most days, which to be honest I don't mind. I don't want start going to bed at 12:00am and waking up at 9:30am because it would make going back to morning schedule exceptionally brutal. However lingering so long at home is difficult, I don't want to wake my landlords but staying in bed is impossible. I tip toe downstairs, crocheting and iPod in hand. After breakfast I curl up by the window and work away at my newest crocheting project while listening to soft Christmas music.

November also marks the start to a new season: Christmas! As many of you know my enthusiasm for Christmas starts the minute I wake up on November 1st. On the eve of October 31st, after the last of the trick or treaters have trudged home, carrying their body weight in candy, I sit down at my computer and organize my Christmas playlists so I am prepared for every possible Christmas music scenerio. For example this year I have themes like: Christmas Soft, Christam Rock, Christmas Driving, Christmas Epic, Christmas Funky, Christmas Bedtime, Christmas Dinner Party, Christmas Stories, Christmas Adventures in Odyssey, Christmas Silver Screen, Christmas Favourites, Christmas Tree Sitting and Christmas, Chrristmas, Christmas. Phew! I should be committed. To add to my gaiety it snowed for a whole day this week! Sadly by 10:00am the next morning it was all gone but for those brief delicious 24 hours it smelled like silver and blue, frost and wood fire places, Christmas melodies and golden ribbons. I look forward to the time when the scent of Christmas lingers indefinately.

As I mentioned earlier I am in the afternoon rotation at school. I have also been rotated into a different department: Function. Function Group inlcudes preparing sweet trays, speciality goodies, and other fancy things for various conferences, functions, and groups that are hosted in Holland College. Most functions lean towards the last half of the week leaving Tuesday and Wednesday almost empty of kitchen responsibilty. I was very uncomfortable with this new found freedom and felt like I wasn't pulling my weight in the kitchen even when there was nothing to pull. Shouldn't I be making something? Are you sure I don't have get started on my cheesecake until Wednesday? Can I clean something? What on earth do I do with myself?! Most would take this freedom as a gift and an opportunity to doddle but I did not. I copied out recipes, adjusted measurments and conversions in my notebook and preped the ingredients for the next day. Determined to keep myself busy I flagged a page in my recipe book eager to revisit some favourite recipes and to sharpen my skills when spare time came available.

And how can I forget about that glorious little gift called Daylight Savings? A whole extra hour of sleep that I didn't even have to bargin for. With the sun rising at a more liesurely pace and setting practically at 3:00pm I will be biking to school in daylight and coming home in the dark. A curious turn of events.

Before I sign off for the night and tuck myself into bed, as mentioned before my internal clock needs some adjustment as I still find myself drifting off by 9:30 despite my attempts to push it to 10:00, I would like to share one hilarious and miraculous story with you. This past Thursday, as I arrived at my apartment after a long day of school, I discovered the key to my bike lock was missing. I knew I had it when I unlocked my bike at school which meant it was between my apartment and the college. After searching every pocket on my clothing, my back pack and even the random crevices of my bike I retraced my steps and biked all the way back to school. It wasn't hiding under the bike rack or around the school, it was indeed sitting patiently in the middle of Queen street. Queen street! So like a hobo diving for dropped change I ran into the street between cars grabbed the key and ran back to my bike. I felt like a fool, but a victorious fool.

Yes November is saturated in the unsettling air of change, but like a sea bird I welcome the challenging flight.