Thursday 31 October 2013

Book ~ "100 Ways to Make Good Photos Great: Tips & Techniques for Improving Your Digital Photography" (2013) Peter Cope

From Goodreads ~ A practical, accessible guide to turning your good photographs into great ones whether you are shooting on the latest digital SLR or a camera phone! 

Discover 100 simple and fun ways to improve your photographs both in-camera and through post-processing image manipulation. Every key photographic genre is covered, from perfect portraits and the great outdoors, to travel photos and shooting at night. Filled with inspirational examples of great photographs compared against the more average images, with easy to follow techniques for how you can achieve the same results. 

Whether you are an aspirational amateur wanting to make your photographs even better, or an enthusiastic beginner who just wants to produce more satisfying results, "100 Ways to Make Good Photographs Great" will provide you with useful professional tips and techniques to take your photography to the next level.

I have three cameras ... a Canon point-and-shoot that is usually in my purse, a Nikon D5100 DSLR along with some lenses, and a Nikon CoolPix (that's in between the two) that I use often.  Needless to say, I take a lot of pictures.  Gord and I took some classes last year to learn how to (1) use our cameras in other than auto mode and (2) take photographs, not just pictures.

I'm still an amateur and like reading photography books to see what professionals take pictures of and how they do it.

This book isn't a "how-to" use your camera ... it assumes that you know about aperture, shutter speed, ISO, etc.  What it does is provide 100 tips on how to take better photos.

There are eight chapters plus a glossary:
  1. Turning the Good into Great
  2. Capturing the Perfect Portrait
  3. Shooting Social Photography
  4. Photographing The Great Outdoors
  5. Taking Great Photos on Your Holidays and Travels
  6. Photographing Around the Home
  7. Shooting Night and Low Light Photography
  8. Getting the Very Best from Your Shots
  9. Jargon Buster

Each chapter has an introduction and then the tips.  There are also short pro tips and pictures as examples.  Each chapter ends with a summary with essential things to remember, things to watch out for, exposure modes, things to have in your kit bag and "good to great" tips.

I liked this book.  It's written in an easy-to-understand manner. I knew most of the things but it was a good reminder.  I did pick up some tips I didn't know before (like how to take a picture of lights at night and have them look like stars rather than blobs).

I found there was a bit too much focus on taking photos with cell phones and fixing pictures afterwards with a computer program.

I'd recommend this book if you are a basic to intermediate photographer ... you know the basics but aren't sure what to do with them.

Wednesday 30 October 2013

Michael's on Simcoe, Toronto, ON

I received an invitation to attend the one year anniversary of Michael's on Simcoe this evening.

After a year of servicing the financial and entertainment district; Michael’s on Simcoe celebrates a year of grade A food, high end service and the development of a loyal following of clients and celebrities.

Located in the downtown district steps from the Shangri-La, Michael’s on Simcoe is a contemporary steakhouse that blends the best of modern day cuisine while paying homage to its authentic Italian roots. 

Home to an array of USDA prime steak, luxurious seafood, and cooked to perfection hand crafted pasta, Michael’s also boasts a menu of classic cocktails with a modern day twist. Head chef Derek von Raesfeld (former head chef at Mistura & Sopra) sources fresh, local ingredients hunting farmers markets and local food suppliers in all corners of the city. Originally from Toronto and having studied in Milan and Genova, Raesfeld has worked under well-known Canadian chefs Mark McEwan, Brad Long, Rob Fennie and Massimo Capra.

“Michael’s is about providing an upscale dining experience,” says Michael Dabic, Owner, Michael’s on Simcoe. “Clients at Michael’s enjoy high-end service, prime steak custom cut to order and an elegant atmosphere for guests. It’s about creating an ambiance of class similar to restaurants in New York and Miami.” 

Nestled in between the financial and entertainment district s in downtown Toronto, Michael’s on Simcoe reinvented the feel of a traditional masculine steakhouse by creating a softer, more elegant space, despite the location of a beef aging chamber onsite. Partnering with well-known firm Yorkville Design, a year of dedication has certainly proved successful - eye catching décor, superb textured walls are among some of the credible changes in the downtown Toronto space. During TIFF 2012 and TIFF 2013, Michael’s on Simcoe hosted a variety of star studded and celebrity events and garnered a mention in People Magazine. 

Michael’s on Simcoe is a modern Italian Steakhouse that playfully combines the best of contemporary cuisine with USDA prime steak, fresh seafood and authentic homemade pastas. Michael’s on Simcoe offers an elegant and haute dining room and contemporary lounge perfect for corporate, social or special events.

It's a cute spot and there was an enthusiastic crowd!

Tuesday 29 October 2013

Boston Pizza, Mississauga, ON

I've been doing a lot of one-on-ones for a client in Mississauga the last couple weeks.

I haven't had a lot of time for lunch so have just been ducking out for a quick bite.  Today I had a bit more time so went to Boston Pizza on Financial Drive.  I've been there before and it was okay.

Sunday 27 October 2013

Classic Chocolate Making Workshop, Chocolate Tales, Toronto, ON

Last month I received an email from "Cocoa" Kelly Maxfield, Senior Chocolatier - Toronto Staff Manager at Chocolate Tales, offering me and a guest a complimentary seat to attend one of their workshops.

If you like chocolate and quality entertainment, you've come to the right place!

At Chocolate Tales, we provide entertaining chocolate making workshops of all kind - from friendly home gatherings, bridal events, kids parties to professional corporate team building events.  Our staff are experts at delivering stimulating content and hands - on activities that will create lasting memories long after the event has ended.

It’s not just about eating and making the best chocolate ever (although this is important!).  Our entertaining workshops and events help bring people together time after time. Our staffs’ focus is about instilling positivity and creating an entertaining, stimulating event for you, your family and friends!

Discover the wonderful world of chocolate!

This afternoon, my pal, Liz, and I attended the Classic Chocolate Making Workshop at their St. Lawrence Market location.

The kitchen overlooks the Market ... so strange to see it quiet (it's not open on Sundays or Mondays).

Navid offered yummy hot chocolate when we arrived.

Saturday 26 October 2013

Fat Bastard Burrito Co., Toronto, ON (Liberty Village)

After we left the ZoomerShow, we were hungry so went to Fat Bastard Burrito in Liberty Village for a late lunch.

ZoomerShow, Toronto, ON

Gord and I checked out the ZoomerShow today at the Direct Energy Center.  We'd never been before.  We brought an ad from the Toronto Star so our admittance was $5 each, rather than $8 each.

Now entering its sixth successful year, the ZoomerShow is Canada’s largest consumer show and lifestyle expo for men and women 45+.

On site, you will receive the latest trends, advice and information on positive aging from more than 250 exhibitors in categories such as:
  • Health & Wellness
  • Financial Planning
  • Real Estate & Community
  • Caregiving
  • Fitness
  • Technology
  • Employment
  • Education
  • Pets
  • Volunteerism
  • Faith
  • Home Renovations & Safety
  • Travel
The show is loaded with extras, such as celebrity speakers, free vaccinations, blood pressure checks, fitness demonstrations, samples, discounts and interactive kiosks.

When we walked in, we were greeted by members of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra.

This mist sign was neat ... there were images projected on it.  I walked through it and it felt a bit cool.

Friday 25 October 2013

Luxe Box - Fall 2013

My fall Luxe Box arrived today.

Here's what was inside ...

Book ~ "Fearless" (2013) Chris O'Guinn

From Goodreads ~ At fifteen, Justin is already a cynic. He’s experienced too many betrayals, too many disappointments. He doesn’t want to be involved in anything. He doesn’t want to be popular. He doesn’t even want friends anymore, since they only ever let you down. He just wants to get through high school and the best way he can come up with to accomplish that goal is to simply be invisible.

His self-imposed exile from high school life is threatened when Liam, the scary stoner, reaches out to him. What starts out as a strange and unsettling encounter with the unnerving, pot-smoking teenager evolves into the sort of friendship that changes the course of a person’s life.

But as Liam drags the reluctant Justin out of his shell, Liam’s own secret is revealed.

Fearless is the story of the myriad shades of love, how to find one’s courage and the transformative power of friendship.

Justin is a geeky 15-year-old loser.  He is tired of being made fun of so he avoids everyone and has no friends.  His parents have gone through a bitter divorce and he lives with his mother ... his father regularly defaults on support payments so they are barely getting by.  Justin spends most of his time in his room online and in chat groups.

When Justin meets Liam (who is the same age as him), he sees him as a stoner and a thug.  He can't understand why Liam seeks out his friendship.  They are complete opposites but become best friends.  Liam gives Justin the confidence to come out of his shell and stand up for himself.  Justin becomes an important person to Liam as he fights Lou.  The book details their friendship and bond.  There's so much more I'd like to talk about but I don't want to give away some of the plots.

This is the first book I've read by this author and I enjoyed it.  I liked the writing style.  It's written in first person (from Justin's perspective) and the tone is conversational (like Justin is talking to us and telling us what's going on).  It's a YA book but because of the language and some activity, I would recommend it for a more mature YA and older.  The story and writing kept me interested and wanting to read more ... I didn't find it too immature for me even though it's about teenagers.

I liked the characters.  Once Liam was able to get Justin to trust him and be himself, the interaction between them was funny and honest.

“Man, I can’t believe we’re stuck at home instead of at the Homecoming Dance.”

“Trust me, this is better,” I told him. “At least for me. My dance moves are outlawed in twelve states.”

Liam cracked a smile. “I got to see that.”

I frowned at him. “No.”

Liam’s eyes lit up with mischief. “Uh uh, you can’t keep claiming to be bad at everything without proof. You have to show me.”

“I really don’t.”

He went over to my laptop and called up the music player. “Hmm, let’s see, what do we have for playlists? ‘Life sux?’ ‘Love sux?’ I’m sensing a theme here.”

“At least I’m consistent.”

“True. Hey, ‘OMG the 80’s’ I think we have a winner.”

“I’m not dancing,” I told him.

I thought my tone was pretty firm. That didn’t prevent him from yanking me to my feet, though, with a strength I didn’t think he had. As the familiar beat of one of my favorite classics warbled out of my laptop’s crappy speakers, I folded my arms and backed away from the crazy guy with the infectious smile.

“Come on, feel the beat,” Liam coaxed.

I just couldn’t hang onto my glower, not with him gyrating and flailing like a fish out of water. It didn’t seem possible, but somehow he was actually as bad or worse than me.

“Oh girls just want to have fun,” he sang—badly—and danced (if one could call it that) over to me.

“You really don’t get the whole ‘no’ concept, do you?”

Justin's mother works a lot but she and Justin have a good relationship (one based on lies of omission, according to Justin).  Liam's parents are also hardworking and care about their son.

I enjoyed this book and would recommend it.

Thursday 24 October 2013

Book ~ "A Secondhand Murder" (2013) Lesley Diehl

From Goodreads ~ Spunky and outspoken Eve Appel moves from Connecticut to rural Florida intent on starting a new life, free of drama, and more importantly, her soon-to-be ex-husband. The rural Florida town of Sabal Bay, situated only an hour from West Palm, proves to be the perfect spot for her consignment store. Thanks to the recent economic downturn, Florida's society matrons need a place to discreetly sell their stuff and pick up expensive-looking bargains. But Eve's life, and her business with it, is turned upside down when a wealthy customer is found stabbed to death in a fitting room.

As accusations fly and business slows, Eve decides to take matters into her own hands. With the help of an unlikely bunch of friends--including her estranged ex, her best friend, a handsome private eye, and a charming mafia don--she struggles to find answers and save lives. Through a maze of distorted half-truths, dramatic cover-ups, and unrequited passions, Eve learns just how far the wealthy will go to regain what they have lost.

Eve and her best friend, Madeleine, recently opened a thrift shop in Florida.  Former wealthy women stealthily drive from their mansions hours away to sell their stuff in Eve and Madeleine's shop and in return buy what the ladies have to offer.  One day Valerie Sanders arrives to do that but is stabbed and killed in the dressing room.  This sets off the hunt for the killer.  Caught up in the tangle to find out what's going on include Eve and the Madeleine, Alex (a private detective), Freida (a cop and friend of Eve and Madeline's), Jerry (Eve's soon-to-be-ex-husband), Nappi (a mobster and Jerry's soon-to-be-father-in-law), Grandy and Max (Eve's grandmother and step-grandfather) and some local cowboys.

This is the first book I've read by this author and I enjoyed it.  I like mysteries, especially light-hearted fun ones.  I liked the writing style ... there were lots of twists and turns but it's also comical.  The language is fairly clean.

I liked the cast of characters ...there was quite a variety in the cast.  Eve was funny and brave.  Madeleine was cute and clutzy.  Alex was attracted to Eve (and she was attracted to him but was still leery of men because of her ex) and didn't give up his pursuit of her.  Jerry was a slimy dog who had cheated on Eve but I still couldn't help but like him.  Nappi, though a mobster, was dangerous but loyal and likable.  Freida was a cop who is still protective of her friends.

This is apparently the first in the Eve Appel Mystery Series and I look forward to reading future books in the series.

Tuesday 22 October 2013

Healthy kitties!

Morgan has been asthmatic since January 2006 ... we have to use a puffer when he's having problems breathing.

He needed a new puffer so the vet asked us to bring him in for a check-up first.  So we took both Morgan and Crumpet in this evening since they both needed check-ups.

I put the carriers out this morning so they'd get used to them.  Crumpet didn't realize what they meant and climbed on them.  Morgan knew that he would be jammed inside one and wouldn't be going to a fun place ... so he hid under the bed.

First off, they got weighed in.  Crumpet is a perfect weight at 12 pounds.  Morgan, though a long cat, is a tubby boy at 19 pounds ... he has to lose 6 pounds!

While we were waiting for the vet, the kitties checked out the examining room.

Pleez take me home!

The vet checked them out and they are both healthy!  Yay!

Their reward was a new catnip toy each (with the proceeds going to a cat rescue).

Monday 21 October 2013

Book ~ "Climb that Fence" (2013) Philip Johnsey

From Goodreads ~ Edmund blasts across the yard against my calls to come in. He gleely runs off and I chase him across the grass only to find a unique butterfly or a sky filled with stars. As soon as I stop and admire, Edmund promptly comes to my side and rubs against me. 

Do you ever wonder if there is more to your pet's behavior than meets the eye? Sometimes their antics are more than just random behavior. Can we learn something about ourselves by watching them? 

I believe so and Climb that Fence take that Leap is a compilation of personal, inspirational animal stories and the life lessons we can glean from them. 

After enjoying these stories, hopefully you'll enjoy more quality time with your furry friend and know what it takes to Climb that Fence and Take that Leap!

I love reading books about animals!

The author tells stories about his cats and turtle and provides lessons that we can learn from them.  The lessons are:
  1. See things as they are
  2. Just keep digging
  3. Climb that fence and take a leap
  4. Whatever it takes to make it
  5. Exploring keeps me alive

Here is an excerpt about his turtle, Ben ...

Take Action:

Ben knew what the grass felt like and tasted like, and he knew the joy of being free. That was enough motivation for him to take action. The first thing he tried was to sit by the gate and “run” out each time I opened it. A turtle can move faster than you expect when it wants something.

One memorable time, I opened the gate and he went for the escape. Just as I was getting ready to lean down to bring him in, two cats ran right over the top of him on their way out. As I dodged out of the way, I thought, “What is this, a jailbreak?” Animals: they stick together.

Sometimes he’d “protest” and sit in front of the gate so I couldn’t open it. That wasn’t a problem when I was inside the patio. When I was outside and wanted to come in, it became difficult. I’d push on the gate and he’d just climb into his shell, which made it almost impossible to move him. It was like there was a big rock on the other side of the door. I’d have to firmly push on the gate and slide him out of the way. He’d hiss and grunt about it, but he wasn’t about to get up and move.

These actions let me know what he wanted, but to achieve his goal, he really needed something different. That’s when he began to dig the hole. Even though digging a hole was second nature to Ben, there were a lot of unknowns. He didn’t know how deep he’d have to dig to get under the fence. He didn’t know if there was a root system or other barrier that would prevent him from his escape.

It's a cute book and is a quick read.  It's a good way to remind us to get out of our comfort zone, set goals and enjoy life.

Sunday 20 October 2013

Book ~ "The Show" (2013) John A. Heldt

From Goodreads ~ Seattle, 1941. Grace Vandenberg, 21, is having a bad day. Minutes after Pearl Harbor is attacked, she learns that her boyfriend is a time traveler from 2000 who has abandoned her for a future he insists they cannot share. Determined to save their love, she follows him into the new century. 

But just when happiness is within her grasp, she accidentally enters a second time portal and exits in 1918. Distraught and heartbroken, Grace starts a new life in the age of Woodrow Wilson, silent movies, and the Spanish flu. She meets her parents as young, single adults and befriends a handsome, wounded Army captain just back from the war. In The Show, the sequel to The Mine, Grace finds love and friendship in the ashes of tragedy as she endures the trial of her life.

Grace had followed Joel through a mine which was actually a time travel portal that took her from 1941 to 2000.  She finds him and they start a happy life together ... they get married and have a family.  Through an unfortunate and unexpected accident in 2002, she enters another portal and is transported back to 1918.  She tracks down her great uncle and he takes her in.  Eventually she loses hope that she will be able to return to 2002 and starts a new life in 1919 Seattle.

I love time travel books and this book was entertaining ... watching Grace adjust to 2000 (with cell phones, computers, Internet, etc.) and adjust again to 1918 (prohibition, the end of World War I, etc.).

I had just finished The Mine so it was still fresh in my mind.  Though this book is a sequel and picks up the last couple chapters of The Mine, it can also function as a stand alone as there is lots of information so you know what had happened in The Mine if you hadn't read it.

I liked the writing style, though I didn't find it as amusing as The Mine, which was focused on Joel (he has a more fun and sarcastic personality than Grace).  The story was interesting as we get to meet Grace's relatives as they were in 1918 ... her now deceased parents as they were just meeting each other (how weird would that be?!), her beloved Aunt Edith, and her great Uncle Alastair, his wife Margaret and their daughter.  The author captures the time period well.

I liked the characters.  I found it a bit unbelievable, though, that as much as she loves Joel and misses her children, she begins to have feelings for Captain Walker and considers having a life with him within four months of meeting him.

I would recommend this book and look forward to reading others by this author.

I received a copy of this ebook at no charge from the author in exchange for my honest review. 

I love our new lights

When I bought our condo in June 2001, I was the second owner.  I bought it from an older couple who had done no upgrades.

Our living room, dining room and kitchen are open concept ... so basically one room.

I hated the light that was over our dining room table ...

And I hated the fluorescent light that was in the kitchen (the cover broke a couple years ago)  ...

For years we have been talking about doing something about them ... and yesterday was the day!

We bought two matching lights and Gord installed them yesterday and today.

The one in the foreground is in the dining room and the one in the background is in the kitchen.

Good job, Gord!

Now we need to paint the kitchen ceiling because you can see where the fluorescent light was and we'll do that sometime.

I'm soooooo happy to be rid of those lights!

Do you finish a book no matter what?

I love to read!

But I'm not one of those who HAS to finish a book.  There are too many books out there to keep reading one that I'm not digging.  Next!

Of Goodreads' Top Five Most Abandoned Books, I read Fifty Shades of Grey because I wanted to see what all the fuss was about ... the first one was enough and I have no immediate plans to read the others.  I did abandon Eat, Pray, Love for exactly the reason listed below ... I found the main character too whiny and self-obsessed.  I haven't read the other three.  I haven't read any of the Top Five Most Abandoned Classics.

I usually know quickly into a book whether I'm going to enjoy it or not (the writing style or subject matter) but I keep going a little further to give it a chance.  I usually give up within the first 50 pages (I'm part of the 15.8% crowd listed below).  When I give up on a book, I usually skip to the end to see how it ended.

Do you finish a book no matter what?


Saturday 19 October 2013

Metrolinx Union Pearson Express construction ... why did they have to work all night?!

Currently there is no easy or fast way to get to Pearson Airport (our large airport) from downtown.  You can catch an "airport bus", take a cab (about $60) or go by transit (which would take forever).

To solve this, Metrolinx is going to provide a rail service between Union Station downtown and the airport ... it is scheduled to be finished by 2015.  Sounds like an excellent idea!  To accomplish this, they have to upgrade existing tracks and/or build new ones.

The tracks pass just south of our condo corporation ... we live between #1 and the Strachan Avenue overpass on this shot.

There has been lots of construction going on and it's constant and loud.  Alas, they cut down the trees between our corporation and the tracks so there is no sound barrier.

During the day, it's fine because that's normal, right?  Surprisingly they've worked on holidays.

But last night when Gord and I went to bed about midnight, they were still working!  They didn't stop 'til just after 5am.  Seriously!

So all freakin' night all we could hear was the sound of trucks and banging ... the constant beep-beep-beeping was insane!  Needless to say, neither of us got much sleep.

There is no work being done right now ... why couldn't they have waited to do what they did last night to do it today ... in the daytime?

Doesn't Metrolinx have any respect for the residents in the area?  It appears not :(

October 23 - They started working on the tracks this morning about 5am ... lots of loud beep-beep-beeping :(

Friday 18 October 2013

Book ~ "The Mine" (2013) John A. Heldt

From Goodreads ~ In May 2000, Joel Smith is a cocky, adventurous young man who sees the world as his playground. But when the college senior, days from graduation, enters an abandoned Montana mine, he discovers the price of reckless curiosity. He emerges in May 1941 with a cell phone he can't use, money he can't spend, and little but his wits to guide his way. Stuck in the age of Whirlaway, swing dancing and a peacetime draft, Joel begins a new life as the nation drifts toward war. 

With the help of his 21-year-old trailblazing grandmother and her friends, he finds his place in a world he knew only from movies and books. But when an opportunity comes to return to the present, Joel must decide whether to leave his new love in the past or choose a course that will alter their lives forever. THE MINE is a love story that follows a humbled man through a critical time in history as he adjusts to new surroundings and wrestles with the knowledge of things to come.

It's 2000 and college seniors, Joel and Adam, are on an adventure in Montana.  Because of a traffic jam, they have some time to kill and Joel wants to check out a nearby abandoned mine.  Adam has no interest so Joel enters it alone.  He comes across an amazing wall but frightened by a snake, he hits his head running out of the mine and becomes unconscious.  When he wakes up 30 minutes later and leaves the mine, he is initially mad because Adam had taken off in his car ... but he eventually realizes that he is in 1941!

Not knowing what else to do, he heads home to Seattle.  There he meets Tom and becomes friends with his friends, including his eventual grandmother, Ginny, and her friend, Grace.  Joel and Grace fall in love and life is good for Joel.  But armed with the knowledge of the future, Joel knows WWII is coming how it will change everyone's lives.

Six months later when Joel realizes he has a chance to get back to 2000, he has a decision to make ... go back to his life in 2000 and let his new friends get on with the lives they should have had or stay with Grace and his friends, changing the course of their lives, and perhaps having to enlist and go into the war.

This is the first book I've read by this author and I really enjoyed it.  I love time travel books and I liked how the author handled this one.

I liked the writing style.  It was flowed well and kept me wanting to read more.  It's a crazy farfetched story but I was buying it.  I think the author wrote about 1941 well and I got a good sense of what it was like living in that time period.

I liked the characters.  Joel was a nice guy and a loyal friend both in 2000 and 1941 and I think he would be a fun guy to hang out with.  Tom, Ginny, Grace and Katie sound like great friends to have.  I liked the relationship between Joel and Grace and enjoyed their interactions (it's 1941 so it was fairly innocent).

The ending could have gone a few ways, right?  Did Joel really go back in time?  Or was it all an hallucination because he hit his head on the way out of the mine?  If he did go back in time, did he end up staying or going home to 2000?  It ended exactly the way I thought it would/should.  You're going to have to read this book to find out what happened!

This is the first in a series and I'd recommend it ... I look forward to reading the others!

I received a copy of this ebook at no charge from the author in exchange for my honest review. 

Trius wine club - October 2013

I picked up our box from Trius at the post office today (we weren't home when they tried to deliver it yesterday).

Gord and I have been members of the Trius Wine Club (formerly the Hillebrand Wine Club) for over ten years.

Every month, 2 bottles of our best wine will be delivered to your door along with Winemaker Craig McDonald’s tasting notes and Chef Frank Dodd’s recipes.

The cost is about $40 a month and it's only available in Ontario.

Here's what we got this month ...

  • Artist Series Semi-Dry Riesling 2010 ($12.15) ~ The recipe included that pairs with it is Turkey Burgers with Spiced Tomato Salsa
  • Trius Red 2011 ($22.95) - The recipe included that pairs with it is Trius Red Wine Butter and Red Wine Salt 

The kitties enjoyed the box ...

Morgan always jumps in the box.
This time Crumpet attacked it.
Distracted by birds outside!