Friday 31 January 2014

Toronto Rock 17, Vancouver Stealth 12

The second Toronto Rock home game of the season was tonight and Gord and I were there (we have season's tickets this year).  The Rock is a professional lacrosse franchise in the National Lacrosse League (NLL).

They were playing the Vancouver Stealth.

The Rock got warmed up.

The Rock Cheerleaders entertained.

Then they welcomed the Rock players.

Book ~ "That Old Black Magic" (2014) Mary Jane Clark

From Goodreads ~ Aspiring actress and wedding-cake decorator Piper Donovan has barely arrived in New Orleans to perfect her pastry skills at the renowned French Quarter bakery, Boulangerie Bertrand, when a ghastly murder rocks the magical city. Intrigued by the case, Piper can't help but look for the "Hoodoo Killer" among the faces around her. Could it be the handsome guide eager to give her special private tours? Or the inscrutable jazz musician who plays on historic Royal Street? What about the ratings-starved radio talk-show host? Or even the amiable owner of the local Gris-Gris Bar? 

Though Piper has a full plate decorating cakes for upcoming wedding celebrations, she's also landed an exciting but unnerving role in a movie being shot in the Big Easy. When the murderer strikes again, leaving macabre clues, she thinks she can unmask the killer. But Piper will have to conjure up some old black magic of her own if she hopes to live long enough to reveal the truth.

Piper is a baker and an actress.  She has won a contest to spend some time with Bertrand, a famous baker, in New Orleans.  As soon as she arrives, there is a murder and people suspect it has something to do with voodoo.  A couple days later, there is another murder of a merchant on the same street.  While dealing with this happening around her, she lands a small part in a movie opposite Channing Tatum plus has to bake a couple cakes for an upcoming wedding.

This is the first book I've read by this author and I enjoyed it.  I liked the writing style and the short choppy chapters.  The language and actions are suitable for readers of any age (no swearing or extreme violence).  There were lots of characters who could have been the murderer and you don't find out until the end.  I suspected one of the characters after the second murder victim was discovered and it turned out I was right ... and it made sense and I bought it.

This is the fourth in the Wedding Cake Murders series. Though I hadn't read the first three, it worked okay as a stand alone.  There was just enough info to bring me up to speed with what happened in the first three but didn't give too much away in case I want to read them (which I do).

I'd like to visit New Orleans some day and learned a lot about the culture from this book (like the history of voodoo, why the dead aren't buried in the ground but above ground, how they make room for generations of bodies in one crypt, why funerals are so festive, etc.).  Informative but not text-book boring.

I received a copy of this book at no charge in exchange for my honest review. 

Thursday 30 January 2014

Toronto Maple Leafs 6, Florida Panthers 3

We had a meeting this afternoon with a new client that we had implemented before Christmas.  They wanted to do post mortem on how things had gone.  They had people in from Calgary and North Carolina plus their consultants from North Carolina and Toronto. They are pleased and said that the process had been "outstanding" ... yay!

After the meeting, we took them out for drinks and then to a hockey game in a box and they were thrilled!  The Toronto Maple Leafs were playing the Florida Panthers.

The teams warmed up.

 Getting ready for the game to begin ...

Wednesday 29 January 2014

Estérel Resort, Estérel, QC

The company I work for had our sales conference Monday to today ... it was held at the Estérel Resort which is about 1.5 hours NE of Montreal.  There are about 60 of us from across Canada.

Estérel Resort is nestled in the Laurentian Mountains just 20 minutes from Saint-Sauveur, surrounded by three prestigious lakes and an endless forest. With two new boutique hotels - emotion and Evolution- three restaurants, and a new Nordic Spa, Estérel combines luxury and comfort with pleasure for an ideal nature getaway. 

Alas, because our days were jammed packed because of the conference, I didn't have time to enjoy the spa or check out the grounds.


Here's my room ... it was very nice!

Tuesday 28 January 2014

Book ~ "Can I Have Chips?" (2014) Louise Graham

From Goodreads ~ FED UP WITH BEING OVERWEIGHT? Join millions of others and learn how to succeed at losing weight and stay your perfect size - without giving up chips and other starchy foods. Ditch the faddy diets! You may lose weight initially, but unless you can maintain your weight loss for six months - the time it takes for hunger hormones that are triggered by dieting to return to normal - you may end up heavier than before you started your diet.

Based on the latest medical research, scientist Louise Graham explains that our modern diet makes us fat because it is highly palatable and energy dense. She reveals how you can lose weight permanently by increasing your intake of protein - more filling than other foods - and avoiding foods containing added sugar and added fat.

A diet high in protein is not only an effective weight loss tool, it also partly compensates for the natural increase in appetite triggered by weight loss. There's no need for confusing calorie counting, intermittent fasting or expensive commercial diet products - just eat three, filling, protein rich meals a day, cut out snacks and soft drinks and watch your weight plummet. Follow the sustainable maintenance plan inside and you never need go on another diet Can I Have Chips? is a refreshing change from the usual faddy diet books, making it the perfect partner for anyone looking to lose weight and keep it that way.

I like reading books about getting healthy.  While I don't eat a lot of chips (aka French fries), I figured the concept would be interesting.

This book is divided into three parts:
  1. Get Motivated - eating less, eating better, eating intuitively, self esteem, etc.
  2. Get Smart - starches, proteins, fruits and veggies, alcohol, etc.
  3. Get Real - the diet, the two phases, an FAQ, recipes, etc.

This author is promoting a diet higher in protein and eating the right carbs.  In reference to the title, you can have whatever treat you need (be it chips, chocolate, etc.) but sparingly if not at all.

The chapters are in bite-size chunks so not overwhelming and there are key points at the end of each in bullet form (like cut portion size, cut out between meal snacks, etc.).

The information is very basic and at a high level.  This book would be good for someone who is just starting out wanting to lose weight but doesn't want to feel overwhelmed with heavy duty reading material.  At the end of the book, there are sample combinations (A protein + B carb + C fruit) along with recipes.  For me, it was too much of a beginner's manual and I didn't get anything out of it that I didn't already know.

Monday 27 January 2014

Book ~ "Since I Last Saw You" (2014) Alice Ann Kuder

From Goodreads ~ Thanksgiving had always been Ali Berg's favorite holiday ... but this Thanksgiving would be very different than any from her past. This year, Ali spends the holiday alone in a mountain cabin, reflecting on her life since losing her husband and young daughter ten months earlier.

When Ali’s seemingly idyllic life is suddenly and irrevocably changed, she struggles to understand her anger and her shame and looks for a way to ease her grief and rebuild her life. Much to her surprise, the search for a future leads back to her past.

A stormy night, a classic movie and a vivid dream combine to provide Ali with the desire to recall and reclaim relationships with significant friends and mentors from years gone by. She begins to wonder, did I ever tell these incredible people what a positive impact they had on my life? Did I ever thank them?

Determined to express her gratitude (however belated) Ali decides to write each of them a personal letter of appreciation. Driven by an overwhelming desire to deliver these special thank you notes herself, she makes the courageous decision to undertake a year-long, solo road trip across America.

Anchored and empowered by the unfailing love of her parents, siblings and best friend, Ali forges ahead. Her journey takes her to destinations as diverse as a small farm in eastern Washington, a heliport in Montana, a speakeasy in Nebraska, and a prison in New York. Along the way, she gains new, and sometimes unsettling insights about herself, her late husband and what it takes to survive the loss of a love.

Ali's husband, Isaac, and daughter, Zoe, were killed in a car accident in February 2012.  Ali was grieving their loss but she was also angry with Isaac for texting while he was driving, which attributed to the accident.

In November 2012, Ali spends Thanksgiving alone and decides to show gratitude to those who have made a difference in her life.  She writes each a letter and decides to spend the next year hand delivering them starting in January 2013.  Some are to her family, some to friends she hasn't seen in years, another is to Isaac's sister, another is to her piano teacher when she was a child, etc.  This book is her journey of delivering the letters, discovering America but also getting over the pain and loss of her husband and daughter.

This is the first book I've read by this author (I believe it's her first one) and I liked it.  I thought it was an interesting story and I liked the writing style.  It is written in third person perspective but we also get to read Ali's diary as she writes in it (this is in first person perspective).  I wasn't crazy one aspect in the end of this book, though, with its hint of where things could go in the future for Ali ... I found it a bit too convenient and tidy.

I liked the characters and found them believable and likeable.  Ali, her friends and her family have faith in God ... as such, there is no swearing and they refer to God often.

I liked the overall message of the book ... appreciate the people who are in your life or have been in your life and the value they added.

Sunday 26 January 2014

Down Home Smothered Steak

Last month I read and reviewed The 163 Best Paleo Slow Cooker Recipes by Judith Finlayson.

Gord likes to cook and found "Down Home Smothered Steak" in it and made it for supper this evening.

I've copied and pasted it from Gord's blog.

Using a 3 1/2 quart crock pot, you'll need:
  • 2 tbsp (30 ml) of clarified butter (he used olive oil)
  • 2 lbs (1 kg) round steak
  • 1 onion, sliced thinly
  • 3 stalks of celery
  • 1/2 tsp (2 ml) sea salt
  • 1/2 tsp (2 ml) cracked peppercorns
  • 2 cups (500 ml) beef stock
  • 2 green bell peppers cut into thin strips

Trim any the fat off the outside of the steak. Heat some oil in a medium high heat pan. Add meat and brown on both sides, then place in crockpot.

Reduce heat to medium, adding a little more oil to the pan. Add onion and celery and cook while stirring for about 5 minutes to soften. Add salt and cracked peppercorns. Stir this in (Note: green pepper is not added here. It will be added 8 hours later).

Add beef stock and bring to a boil, then pour this over the meat in the crockpot.

Cover and cook on low for eight hours.

After eight hours, add the sliced green pepper, cover and cook on high for 20 minutes.

Serve piping hot.

We had it with rice. It looked and smelled like it would be tasty but it was bland.  No offense to Gord but this wasn't one of my favourites.

Saturday 25 January 2014

Book ~ "Finding Harmony" (2014) Pamela Fagan Hutchins

From Goodreads ~ Katie’s already on edge when a dead guy shows up at Estate Annalise and shady locals claim there are slave remains in the foundation but when Nick doesn’t come home to her and the kids from work one day, she’s ready to lose it. 

A frantic Katie launches a Caribbean-wide manhunt, calling on Kurt, her stoic, steady father-in-law, and Collin, her badass big brother to help her search air, land, and sea for her husband, who may be in very big trouble indeed. 

Katie and Nick are married and have three young children (twin babies and they have adopted Nick's nephew ... his sister had recently died).  They live on the Caribbean island of St. Marcos in the U.S. Virgin Islands.  Katie had moved there from Dallas three years ago after she fell in love with her house, Annalise, a jumbie (as in voodoo spirit) house.  Nick's parents, Kurt and Julie, also live with them.

After they discover a man dead in a car of an apparent suicide at the bottom of their driveway, Nick and Katie (who are investigators) are hired by the guy's large corporation employer to find out what happened.  A couple days into the investigation, Nick disappears.  With the help of Kurt, Collin (Katie's brother), Annalise and Katie's dreams of Nick giving her messages, they set off to find Nick.

Though this is the third in the Katie & Annalise series (I'd read the first one, Saving Grace, last year and liked it), it also works well as a stand alone.  The author captures the flavour of the island well with the dialect in the conversations, traditions (the book starts out with Nick having to catch a pig for the christening party of their twins), islanders versus non-islanders, etc.

There was lots going on with the suicide, Nick's disappearance, the discovery that Annalise might have been built over a slave graveyard, etc.  I found this book to be more serious than the first one which is to be expected, I guess, considering Katie is now married, is a mother of three and has acknowledged her dependence on alcohol.

Having a voodoo house that protects them and getting messages in her dreams from Nick about his whereabouts gives what could have been a standard mystery an extra interesting kick.

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

Corned Beef House, Toronto, ON

After Gord and I left the Roundhouse Winter Craft Beer Festival, we walked to the Corned Beef House (Adelaide Street W/John Street) for supper.

We ordered a gigantic corned beef sandwich and a gigantic smoked meat sandwich and shared (so half each).

Corned beef
Smoked meat

Roundhouse Winter Craft Beer Festival, Toronto, ON

Steam Whistle Brewing organized the Roundhouse Winter Craft Beer Festival next to their brewery today ... and Gord and I were there.  They had organized a craft beer festival in the summer, which was fun.

It was -3C/26.6F (-12C/10.4F with the windchill) and yes, the festival was outside.  Bundle up!

The gates opened at 11am and the first 500 people through the gates received a Roundhouse Winter Fest toque.  Gord and I got in line at 10:58am and got a toque.  Score!  A guy in one of the beer line-ups later on offered me $20 for my toque ... no thanks!

Advanced tickets were $20 and there was a limited amount available at the gate for $25 ... this got you into the festival and a sampling mug.  Sampling tokens were $1 each.  There were 15+ breweries to check out.

There were food trucks if you got hungry.

There were port-a-potties but also heated bathrooms.  Or you could use the bathrooms at Steam Whistle.

A DJ played tunes all afternoon.

I like beer but I like a more mild tasting beer (the hoppier, the better for Gord!).  I had beer from Amsterdam Brewery.

Thursday 23 January 2014

Learn to meditate

I enjoy meditating.  I find that it relaxes me and I like the feeling afterwards.

Alas, I don't do it as often I should or would like ... I forget about it so I've got to start making it a habit again!

If you've never meditated before, here are five steps ...

I need guided meditation to keep me focused.  I have a few on my ipod ... I especially like a couple I have by Brian Weiss.

Are you into meditating?

Wednesday 22 January 2014

Book ~ "Lingering Echoes" (2013) Erica Kiefer

From Goodreads ~ Returning to Hidden Pines is the last thing Allie Collins wants to do during her final summer before college. For her, the family cabin she spent her youthful summers in now holds a dark memory that has haunted her every day for the last year.

While struggling to forget her past, Allie runs into Damien, a local rebel with secrets of his own. He's dark, dangerous and he keeps showing up when Allie least expects him to. She has every reason not to trust him. So why does she find herself opening up to him in a way she hasn't been able to with anyone? 

As pieces of Damien’s identity emerge, answers to a rumored mystery begin to unfold. By the time Allie unearths the secrets of Damien’s past, she realizes just how intricately they are connected. Now she is caught in a dangerous battle that threatens her life and those she loves.

Allie spends the summer before she heads to college at the family cottage with her dad, her fairly new stepmother, her stepbrother (Nick) and her stepbrother's friend (Aaron).  She doesn't want to be there because her young cousin, Maddie, drowned there last summer while Allie was keeping an eye on her.  Her family feel that by being there, she'll be able to get over her guilt.

She meets Damien, who is just a couple years older than she is.  She instantly feels a connection with him and is able to trust him enough to talk about her grief and guilt. He gives her the confidence to get over some of her fears.  But he took has had a tragedy in his life too.  Once she discovers his secret, his past soon catches up with him, putting them both in danger.

This YA novel is the first book I've read by this author and I liked it.  It is written in first person perspective, mostly in Allie's voice.  A few chapters towards the end are in Damien's voice as he tells his story.  I liked the writing style and didn't find it to be too young for me given I'm probably not the intended demographic.

I liked Allie and Damien.  They felt responsible for the tragedies in their lives and this was holding them back being happier.  I felt bad for Allie's dad ... he had been out of her life for a few years after the divorce and was now trying to make up for it.  Her stepmother seemed nice enough.  Nick was a year older that Allie and an mean A-hole ... he was easy to dislike.  Aaron was a good friend to Nick (which Allie didn't understand) and became a good friend to Allie.  Brooke, Allie's friend, was a bit of ditz and loved boys.

I would recommend this book.  As a head's up, there is some violence and mature situations.

Tuesday 21 January 2014

Book ~ "Blood Feud" (2012) Daniel Harris

From Daniel Harris ~ Blood Feud is a tale of the American dream gone awry, chronicling the rise of the fictional Galetti family and the vicious lawsuit that proves to be their undoing. Valued at $2 billion in annual sales, feared by its larger competitors and loved by its loyal customers, the Galetti Supermarket chain carves itself a comfortable niche in the food industry in the Boston region in the ’60s and ’70s. 

However, when one of the co-owners dies prematurely, deeply rooted family disagreements begin to erode the once-tight bonds holding the family-based corporate management together. The bonds are severed as old jealousies and mistrusts devolve into outright accusation and hatred, and the embittered widow sues the surviving brother and CEO for misappropriation of company profits. 

Russell Riley, company president, board member and lifelong family friend, narrates the tale and recounts the company’s meteoric rise to prominence and ignominious fall from grace. Caught in the middle of the warring branches of the family and torn between allegiances to both sides, Riley struggles to maintain stability in his life and in the company in the wake of the very bitter - and very public - legal battle.

Russ Riley started working at the Galetti Supermarket in Boston when he was thirteen.  Thirty years later, he is still there and has grown with the company and is now president.  When he started with them, it was a single supermarket run by Dominic.  Dominic's sons, Dom and Joe, joined the store and took over when Dominic retired.  Under their leadership, they opened more and more grocery stores, competing with the larger chains and succeeding.  It stayed a private company and each son and their families had 500 shares (so 1000 shares in total).

When Dom dies at a fairly young age, his widow, Maria, takes his place in the business and on the board of directors.  The business continues to grow even larger.  Suddenly Maria discovers that some of her shares have been sold to Joe (by Joe) and she takes him to court to get them back along with the lost earnings.   This obviously drives a wedge between the two once close families, each wanting Rush to pick a side.  It's not until the end that we find out the decision of the court.

This is the first book I've read by this author and I liked it.  I liked the writing style and I thought if flowed well.  It was an interesting story.  As a head's up, the language at times is for a mature reader.

It is told in first person perspective with Russ as the narrator.  He takes us back to when he started going to the supermarket in the 1960s and how he got attached to it and to Dominic, his mentor.  The story is brought to the future with the turmoil that is happening, with lots of history and details provided through flashbacks.

We get to know the characters well.  Russ is likeable and loyal, and has done well working for the Galettis.  He loves his job and the business.  He eventually gets married and has a family ... I liked his wife, Holly, and his mother, Claire, who he is close to.  Russ and Maria have a special bond, and he gets along well too with Trip, Dom's son, and Joey, Jr., Joe's son, who work for the business.  There has always been tension between Russ and Joe but for the most part they have been able to leave it in the boardroom.  He has some fun friends that he hangs out with.

I'd recommend this book.

Tips for tipping

Gord and I got pedicures last night and we tipped our pedcurists.

I always tip when I get a haircut and I tips others like bartenders, servers, taxi drivers, etc. unless the service sucked.

How about you?  Are you a tipper?  Do you have a rule for tipping?

Monday 20 January 2014

X-Nail & Spa, Toronto, ON

After work today, Gord and I headed over to X-Nail & Spa for pedicures ... it's our go-to spot in our 'hood for pedicures.

There were lots of colours of polish to choose from!

I choose Grape Gum.

Ta-da!  Thanks, Nina!

There's Gord!

Our toes and feet looked great now!