Sunday, December 4, 2016

North American Notes

Summer in Toronto was long and lovely this year.  In fact, the mild weather has really continued on throughout the fall up until now although we have been warned to expect a 'traditional' snowy winter!

Nothing screams summer for me more than watching tennis and I had a super day at the Rogers Cup tournament again.  Although I was disappointed many of my favourite players dropped out due to injury or the impending Olympics, I managed to get a ringside seat to watch Stan 'the Man' Wawrinka, Kei Nishikori and Novak Djokovic hit a few balls around the court.

Shortly before my secondment to Medicine ended and I returned to my job at the English Language Program, I decided to have a long weekend away.  I headed north to Quebec City to stay in a monastery for a few nights. The Monastere des Augustines was a great find. The monastery, which at one point had over 120 nuns living and working there, has been turned into a foundation-managed boutique hotel and retreat as the handful of nuns still living there realized they wanted to preserve both their legacy and continue to raise funds to support work in the community after they were gone.  The building has been beautifully renovated and the nun's cells are now the hotel bedrooms.  There is a lovely restaurant serving locally-sourced, organic food.  It is also where breakfast is served in silence - a few people struggled with this!  I enjoyed exploring the old town and took the slow way home by train to see a bit more of the country I now call home.

Also in September, I managed to do one of those things that define you as a Canadian - I went to a hockey game.  My good friend, Guy, was over from Leeds for a few weeks working at the World Cup of Hockey here in Toronto so kindly treated me and some friends to a night at the rink.  Tickets for hockey games are usually very expensive and we not only had tickets, but seats in an executive box.  I was glad I had some Canadian friends on hand to explain the rules as I was a bit confused by the players staying on the ice for about a minute and then jumping out of the rink.  There were a fair few punch ups as well but I'm told this is 'sport'!

I continued to pursue my own new hobby of sewing over the summer and took a course in quilting.  However, when compared to some of the spectacular quilts I saw on display at Quilts at the Creek, I have a long way to go! These works of art were very impressive and something to aspire to.

Still, I am pursuing my craft and have now added lingerie to my repertoire.  In October, my skills were honed further when I attended a wonderful 'sewing camp' in the Catskill Mountains, a few hours north of New York. Joining almost 100 other sewists at Camp Workroom Social, I had a great time learning how to make bras as taught by Amy Chapman of Cloth Habit.  Not only was the weekend challenging and fun but it was set at the amazing Frost Valley YMCA surrounded by the most gorgeous trees and nature that looked at their absolute best with the fall colours being at peak.  In addition to sewing, I took part in a pyjama party, knitting, yoga, archery and a campfire sing song.  I was delighted to win the Camp Trooper Award for being determined to finish my project, which I did!

Before going to camp, my friend and I had a super few days exploring New York City.  We stayed in a cool and reasonably-priced hotel called The Jane.  The hotel is located in the West Village close to the Hudson River and Meatpacking District which meant we had ample opportunity to explore the nearby sights on foot and by bike.  These included the High Line Park and incredibly moving 9/11 Memorial and Museum. We also saw an off-Broadway show, "Love, Love, Love" starring Richard Armitage and had fun exploring the Garment District on the hunt for bargain fabrics.  In addition, we went back to school and took a class in Fabrics 101 at the Fashion Institute of Technology.

At the end October, I used my beginner-level fabric-draping skills to construct my Halloween costume and enjoyed scaring the small children in the neighbourhood as we handed out sweets to the hundreds that came by trick-or-treating.  Again, this year, I also enjoyed the pumpkin parade the day after and admired all the many pumpkin creations.

In November, I was lucky enough to be invited to stay with a friend in the pretty university town of Guelph and also headed up to Ottawa, where I managed to catch up with my friend, Fair, before spending a few days at the Canadian Bureau for International Education Conference.  During my stay in the capital, I had an out of this world experience when I happened to meet Canada's most famous astronaut, Commander Chris Hadfield.

Next week, I jet off to the UK and will spend three weeks catching up with family and friends over Christmas and New Year.  I wish you all the very best for the holidays and a wonderful 2017!

Friday, July 15, 2016

Spring into Summer 2016

I can't believe it's July already!  Time seems to have flown by since I last wrote.

Just before Christmas last year, I flew south to Costa Rica to join the snow birds fleeing the Canadian winter and my parents fleeing the British one. We spent around two weeks exploring this nature lover's paradise as we travelled around this tiny but lush country.  Our first stop after a couple of days in the capital, San Jose, was Tortuguero National Park where we spent a few days in the rainforest at sea level having travelled in by longboat.  Here, we saw sloths, snakes, monkeys, iguana, butterflies, parrots, toucans and many other species of exotic birds. We then headed inland and stayed on the edge of a Arenal volcano in a highland region of the country.  Again, we were able to explore beautiful rainforest at the Mistico Hanging Bridges Park.  Our guide was excellent and I was very grateful he was on hand when we had a very close encounter with a HUGE snake.  Having survived that, we moved on to stay at the gorgeous Hotel Belmar in Monteverde and took a stroll in the cloud forest in search of the elusive quetzal bird.  Luck was on our side and, along with some other wonderful creatures, we spotted the resplendant quetzal - a truly stunning bird! We then headed to the Pacific coast and Playa Tambor where had a lovely week relaxing in the sun over the Christmas period before flying on to Panama.

Managing to avoid any Panama Paper scandals we spent about a week in Panama.  One of our stops was in the coffee-growing highlands at the Finca Larida plantation where my dad and I became rather fixated with photographing the hummingbirds which were in abundance outside our hillside cottage.  Having crossed the country's backbone and undertaken a somewhat daring boat ride, we then spent New Year resting up on one of the islands in Bocas del Toro before heading back to the capital to check out the famous Panama Canal and old town where, naturally, I had to by a Panama hat!

The last few days of this rather special trip, in memory of my belated granny, were spent in the old city of Cartagena in Colombia staying at the beautiful Ananada Hotel.  This was a return visit to Cartagena for me as I had been earlier in the year on a business trip when I had fallen in love with the place and knew it would also hit my parents' buttons, which it did.  We stayed in the walled city and enjoyed strolling around the streets, listening to live music, shopping in the markets and sampling the local cuisine as well as learning about the pirate history and modern day life of this vibrant city.

Making pizza in the c-c-c-c-cold!
After nearly a month away it was time to return to Toronto and the dead of winter. Although not as bad as the previous year, I found this winter felt quite long.  It was also punctuated with a few days of extreme cold. In February, my friend and I headed north to make the most of a long weekend and "embrace" winter.  We stayed on the edge of Algonquin Park at an eco-resort called Northern Edge.  Our accommodation was lovely with wonderfully prepared organic and locally sourced meals.  Fortunately, it was also well-heated as we picked the coldest weekend of the year to go on our winter outdoor activity adventure.  And when I say cold, I mean cold.  On the first day, the temperature dipped to -44 degrees centigrade.  Even when I went to see the polar bears in northern Manitoba a few years ago, it was warmer than that!  I really feared for my fingers and toes on our initial foray out cross-country skiing.  Despite heat packs in my gloves and boots plus many layers, I was seriously worried about frostbite and, certainly, my face and eyelashes froze. Brrrr!  It did warm up a bit over the next couple of days to -20, which actually felt quite pleasant in comparison, and we enjoyed more skiing, the outdoor sauna and a pizza oven cookout in this beautiful spot before heading home.

I had to work quite a few weekends between February and early April as we were conducting interviews for the medical school.  It was interesting to be part of the process and see how the next crop of medical students are selected.  I also continued with my sewing exploits and am still enjoying my new hobby, especially with my beautiful new machine - an early birthday present from my parents!  I also added to my crafty skills by learning how to wax and dye eggs Ukrainian-style for Easter by doing a workshop in 'pysanky'.

In May, my friend and I headed for the deep south of the US for a few days on a musical odyssey to Memphis and Nashville.  We had a great time tracing the history of the blues through to rock 'n' roll with a bit of country to top it off.  Highlights of the trip included seeing Sun Studios, Graceland, the National Civil Rights Museum, the Johnny Cash Museum, the Country Music Hall of Fame and a concert at the Grand Ole Opry. I also enjoyed seeing the Peabody Ducks strut their stuff on the red carpet on their daily meander from the lobby fountain to their rooftop penthouse at the Peabody Hotel.  It was also fun just hanging out listening to the music in various music haunts in both Memphis and Nashville.  Our journey home was somewhat chaotic though with bad storms resulting in delays and an enforced overnight stop in Chicago.  However, there was something of a silver lining as we were able to squeeze in a sightseeing tour of the Windy City - always a pleasure to see Chicago in the sunshine!

Surprising my dad!
In June, I surprised my dad by heading back to the UK for his 70th birthday.  However, that was not the only surprise.  My mum and I had, with the helps of friends, plotted a surprise party on the theme of one of his passions, photography.  About 120 friends and family members joined us at home, complete with a bouncy castle and ice cream (cara)van in the garden. It was a super day! My mum also arranged an overnight trip away to Derbyshire for us and a few friends. We had a great time and enjoyed seeing Chatsworth House and Gardens in all their glory  It was great to share in the special celebration, catch up with friends and family, and enjoy the north of England in the sunshine.

As I was in Europe (pre-Brexit vote!), I took the opportunity to also enjoy a week sailing around the Greek Islands, the Small Cyclades to be precise.  I joined a boat full of strangers and set sail from Mykonos, having seen its windmills, for seven glorious days of sunshine, swimming, sailing and island hopping.  Each island was very different in character but all were lovely.  I particularly liked seeing Amorgos, where one of my favourite films, The Big Blue, was filmed. We ended our trip bobbing up and down for the night in the middle of Santorini's volcano crater.  It's quite a strange feeling to be sleeping above a dormant volcano's caldera!  The next day, I explored Fira town and took in the magnificent views from the volcano rim before flying back to Toronto via an overnight stop in Manchester.

Receiving our award from Dean Trevor Young
Since getting back to Toronto, I've been quite busy with Canada Day celebrations and a girl's weekend away with friends on the lake as well as being the proud recipient of a special Staff IMPACT Award at work.  Along with two colleagues I have been working with, I have been recognized for the work done to develop the Community of Support initiative to encourage more black students to apply for medical school. The award is for "Fostering a Collaborative Environment" as the project has involved pulling together many different departments, individuals and community groups to establish the project.  As pleased as I am to share in this team award, the biggest reward will be seeing significant positive change in the demographics of our future physicians. There's still a long way to go!