Sunday, December 28, 2008

Food for the belly, food for the brain

Did everyone have a good Christmas? I sure did! My holidays were filled with lots of meals shared with the people I love, lots of lovely chats catching up with those I hadn't seen in a while, and the feeling of having been spoiled repeatedly.

On the 24, Marc dropped by to pick me up before heading to my parents' place in NDG. Thank goodness for the lift because all the heavy snow of the morning and early afternoon had suddenly turned into rain and it was slippery! Our original plan was to drive to the airport to pick up Annie, who was flying in from Vancouver. Unfortunately, Annie did not land in Montreal until 1:35 a.m., almost ten hours late. We were lucky she made it, my favourite airline ended up canceling many, many flights between Vancouver and Calgary, Edmonton, Winnipeg, on December 24, forcing hundreds of people to come up with new plans for the holidays. What a disaster. So, Marc and I had dinner with the parents, a lovely five-course meal beautifully prepared and presented. After dinner, we watched some old movies on TV and went to bed around 11 p.m. for a quick nap. We woke up around 1 and made our way to Trudeau, cursing the slippery sidewalks on the way to the car. Annie arrived quite tired, so we didn't stay up late.

Christmas tradition has always been to wake up together at my parents', enjoy a hearthy breakfast together and then open the presents. I slept over to wake up with the family, as I always did when I was visiting from Vancouver. 34, yet still a kid. I know. Marc slept at his place, so he met us for brunch around noon (nobody woke up really early after the late evening the night before). Brunch was again a feast with lots of yummy treats and even some bubbly. No better way to start a festive day like mimosas (bubbly and orange juice).

I received several fantastic presents, including snowshoes, earrings, beauty products, and a few books: The Origin of Species, from Nino Ricci and Outliers from Malcom Gladwell (his latest, after Blink and The Tipping Point, both of which I have read). I'm currently reading The Origin of Species and really enjoying it. The book is set in Montreal in the 80's and uses the city as a backdrop for the story of Alex Fratarcangeli, a thirty-something student / ESL teacher who seems to be going through a bit of an existential crisis.

In the evening, we had yet another big dinner with my grandma and aunt making their yearly visit. The dinner started with Slovak soup (I think it's called kapusnica), a cabbage soup with spicy sausages and ribs. My great-grandmother used to make it when I was a kid, then my grandmother and today, my aunt is the keeper of the family recipe. It's incredible to be able to enjoy this traditional dish year after year. I cannot imagine Christmas without it. I believe the only year I did not have this soup was my first year in Vancouver, as I did not return home for Christmas. The rest of the dinner was again incredible, with two roasts as the main course and a very chocolatey Christmas log for dessert.

I ended up staying another night at my parents', to spend more time with Annie. I returned home on the 26, only to head back to NDG on the 27 for a post Christmas brunch with dad's side of the family. With the weather being nasty and the roads slippery in the Eastern Townships, we weren't sure people were going to make it to Montreal but in the end, everybody showed up. There was so much food! Cut veggies, cheeses, meatpies I made with dad, a ham, croissant, asparagus wrapped in prosciutto, tomato pies, and so many other dishes that I forget what I had. Before jumping in to the desserts, we had our gift exchange. Normally, in a gift exchange, you buy one gift and receive one but some folks probably didn't read the fine prints. I ended up with many gifts, including two books (The Upside of Down from Thomas Homer-Dixon and The Everyday Activist from Michael Norton), cherry jam, a t-shirt, a pot, a beautiful rack (for spices or other jars) handmade by my godmother and a purple tuque, handmade by my cousin. My family includes some very talented and creative individuals.

After dessert and coffee, it was time to go home, pick up my fondue set and head over to James' place for dinner. Yes, more food. I prepared the meat fondue, James made a salad, and we snacked on baguette and cheese while watching Traitor (starring Don Cheadle) in blu-ray on a 52" flatscreen. It's amazing how much detail you get to see in this format.

Annie slept over last night and since neither of us had plans today, we went to AMC to watch Slumdog Millionaire, the story of a poor boy from the slums in Mumbai who ends up answering all the questions correctly on the Indian version of Who Wants to be a Millionaire and then, as he is about to answer the final question for 20 million rupees, is accused of cheating and has to tell the police how he managed to come up with all the right answers so far. Very entertaining, I recommend it.

Enough movies and food, tonight I'm having a light soup, some cheese, and will go to bed early, reading.

Monday, December 15, 2008

I made my choice

In life, you can face difficult, unexpected and negative situations two ways: you can fight, complain and let the negativity fester inside, generate stress and make you sick, or you can shake your head, smile and carry on with your life. I made my choice.

Today, I waited three hours at the airport for my delayed flight to Halifax. I took a conference call in the departure area, barely able to hear what was being discussed while a very small baby was crying and messages were being relayed to travelers over the intercom. I arrived in Halifax at 8:30 and didn't make it to the hotel until 9:30 (after waiting for my luggage, going through the motions of getting my rented car, and driving from the airport on a very windy stretch of highway). Right now, I'm working on a presentation I should have finished earlier and need to have ready (more or less) for tomorrow. My Tuesday is filled with meetings, I think I have about 15 minutes to have lunch.

I shook my head, smiled, and carried on with my life. I ordered Swiss Chalet for dinner and it came with holiday trimmings (stuffing, cranberry sauce, chocolates). I took a long, hot shower and changed into freshly laundered pajamas. I escaped the crazy weather in Montreal for windy but dry (and mild) weather in Halifax. My week will be busy but I have the office Christmas party to look forward to on Thursday (back in Montreal), a day of cooking meatpies with dad on Saturday, and then only three more days of work until my Christmas break. I get to see Annie soon (visiting from Vancouver, how is that for the world being upside-down?), spend time with my family and friends, enjoy yummy holiday treats, and maybe even sleep in a morning or two.

I'll never see those three lost hours again, but I am going to bed with a heart filled with positive thoughts.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

I'll tell you a story

Just as I am settling down after a day spent doing laundry, dusting, cleaning, and catching up with some work, I realize it's already time to pack the suitcase for another trip to the Maritimes. This week is the last that I am traveling to Halifax this year. I return on Thursday and then get to enjoy two weeks without dealing with winter travel. Bliss.

My place is quiet during the day, and once I made myself a cup of coffee, set the laptop on the kitchen table and sat down in front of the computer, I was able to get quite a bit of work done. I have a presentation to give on Thursday and coming up with the narrative is very hard when I'm in the office. There are too many interruptions, whether I'm working in the project room in Halifax or at my desk at PVM. I've seen a few of the presentations put together by colleagues for other clients, and the bar is set high. Forget death by PowerPoint: the slides we are expected to prepare for clients read like stories and are graphically very striking. Fortunately, I have a few decks of sample slides to use for inspiration (and also to save me time when "designing" slides). Thinking of a presentation like a story is really helpful and every time I create a slide I've been asking myself "so what?" It's one thing to show how the client's revenue has grown over the years, it's another to tie that growth (or absence thereof) to revenue trends of their competitors, the industry, etc. So much more relevant, but also so much more work.

Speaking of stories, I also need to start planning for a couple of white paper abstracts I am submitting with one of the Directors. My company is organizing a white paper contest and the contest is a great opportunity to get your name out there. The 800-word abstracts are due December 19, and if our abstract is selected by the jury, we submit the full paper some time in the spring. Not only do winning authors get prizes, but their papers are also published on our web site and distributed to clients.

It's snowing again? I wonder what the weather is like in Halifax. Last week, while Montreal was struggling with the first big snowfall of the season, we were dealing with rainstorms. It was raining so hard one evening I thought someone was washing the windows of the hotel with a pressure-washer.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Flick! Winter

Just like that. Yesterday, I did some Christmas shopping with mom and dad, and on the way home, it was snowing quite heavily. It continued snowing until the early evening when the wind blew the clouds away.

I woke up this morning thinking it was a bit chilly in my place. It's an old building, badly insulated, so I wasn't entirely surprised, but I was starting to worry about my comfort when the weather eventually turns nasty and the temperature dips to -20 celsius. I packed my suitcase, called a cab, ran out to meet the car in front of the building. Sitting in the back, I'm quietly listening to the radio when I hear the weather report: it's -18 outside. Yikes! But good, this means that I will feel a bit chilly when it's really cold outside, but nothing a warm sweater and sox cannot fix.

My flight to Halifax was on a small Bombardier regional jet. Regional service at Air Canada (and/or Montreal airport) is the Lada of flight services: passengers wait in a terminal with no seats (or only enough seats for about one quarter of the passengers waiting in the area), with limited options for breakfast (I fortunately remembered to grab a coffee and pastry at Starbucks) and, even when it's brutally cold outside, wait in line outside to board the plane (I remember getting off on the tarmac in Mexico, but with the tropical weather, it was a lot more pleasant). At least the flight was on time (left/arrived within 30 minutes of schedule = on time in my books).

When I landed in Halifax, the scene was beautiful. The entire region had received several centimetres of snow. The Halifax airport is surrounded by trees and they were covered. The drive back from the airport to work was a bit stressful, with winds blowing the cars sideways and the roads not being cleared nicely.

Tonight, I can hear the wind howling outside, it's still cold (-10) and will remain for another day. Just like that, somebody turned on a switch and it's winter.

Too bad it's going to warm up and rain later during the week.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

It's time

Life-changing events (like starting a new career and moving across the country) have a tendency to impact your day-to-day routine. I guess that's why they are called life-changing events, and not life-slightly-throwing-you-off-course events. However, eventually, you have to take a step back, pause the craziness for a few seconds, and make a conscious decision about forcing some of the routine back into your daily schedule.

It's time for a pause in my life. First, I need to start exercising again. I know it will require a bit more planning because of the dual residency these days (Montreal-Halifax), but it's definitely time to get this lazy body of mine back into shape. This week, I'm testing a new hotel in Halifax and their gym looks much nicer than the tiny room I found at the Future Inns. This new hotel also has a pool, the idea of swimming laps once or twice a week really appeals to me. Also, I posted a message on the Wall of the Allez-Up Facebook group. I'd like to find someone to climb with on the weekends. I miss climbing and the gym is so close to my place, I should take advantage of it. Eventually, I would like to also start running again, but I need to find a physio first to get going on a program for my knees.

Second, I need to get through the pile of paperwork I've accumulated and make a list of companies with whom I still need to update my address. I have subscriptions that are expiring and also need to gather my receipts for the move to submit at work (new job is covering part of my moving expenses, woot!). Every week I'm just barely keeping up with whatever paperwork needs my attention. I know I'm just asking for trouble and one day, I will simply forget to pay something important. Doh!

Finally, I should set myself weekly objectives (or to-do lists) to get moving on a few projects. These days, it's Christmas shopping, but I also need to set some time aside to prepare for my PMP certification, and last, but not least, more time aside to see friends (yes, I know it's dorky, but I need to plan for play time). It's been a challenge to meet with friends, I'm only in Montreal for a few days a week and those are not always the days when people are available.

Obviously, all these nice thoughts of getting back into a routine are currently taking a back seat to nursing myself back to health. I haven't had a bad cold in a while but what I'm fighting now is pretty nasty.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Beauty, pain

-- start whining

I just ordered room service: an extra box of kleenex. I'm going all out ;)

Today has been simply miserable. I made my way to the office, coughed and sneezed for most of the morning and was sent back to my (hotel) room by my colleagues. Not a bad idea, considering the sorry state I am in. I bought over-the-counter decongestant but the relief is still very slow to come. Hopefully the night version knocks me out completely and I wake up rested and feeling better tomorrow morning.

The flight to Halifax, in the middle of the afternoon yesterday, allowed me to witness a beautiful sunset above the clouds. We were flying over a thick carpet of white clouds, so thick they looked like they could be solid. A little above us, another layer of clouds, more dispersed, was reflecting the light from the sun in a wide array of colours. All this against a backdrop of blue sky. Beautiful. Then we broke through the bottom layer of clouds and descended towards the airport.

That's when it started hurting.

My ears would not pop, no matter how often I tried equalizing them. The pain on one side was sharp and I felt that my entire head was under pressure. Fortunately, I didn't rip an ear drum in the process. The pressure must have released at one point. Flying while congested? Bad idea.

I was so preoccupied with my ears that I hardly noticed our descent into fog. It's always a bit of a shock when you only see the ground half a second before you touch down. Thank goodness for electronic flying equipment.

Now, if only the hotel staff could hurry up with the kleenex, I could stop wiping my red, sensitive nose with this rough toilet paper.

-- end whining