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Now that I’ve recuperated from the whirlwind that is my sister and her two daughters, I can write a blog post about all the fun we had during their holiday visit.

They arrived on the 21st on an empty flight and landed at Billy Bishop airport. With the news showing a jam-packed Pearson airport (busiest day of the year apparently), it made sense to fly to the island airport. Traffic was actually light due to many already being off work.

We got back home and everyone settled in. We made lunch (rigatoni with cherry tomatoes, basil and fresh mozzarella) then had fun playing a rousing game of Christmas charades. The girls are getting old enough to play games that adult enjoy playing too. πŸ™‚ Fun!! We then headed out to Michael’s to get some holiday craft materials that we wanted to tackle during their stay (more on these later!).

We were also cat-sitting for my sister-in-law’s cat Dusty and after a nervous first day, he adjusted quickly and joined in some of the activities. πŸ™‚

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The following day we were planning to go to the Distillery District to see the Christmas Market. During the day, we made the first batch of treats: Smore’s Cookies. They were really yummy and my kitchen helpers were awesome!

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The girls also wrote their letters to Santa for Jingles the Elf to bring them to him. This is a kit that comes with magical paper (and a storybook explaining it all) that shrinks when you bake it (with the help of an adult) so they’re small enough for the elf to carry back to Santa. It was really neat! You can see the large letter in the first pic. Then, the shrunken versions in the 2nd and 3rd pic:

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We also played 5 Second Rule, a fun and simple game where a player has to name 3 things that fit the category in 5 seconds. This was a lot of fun!

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Next was our visit to the Christmas Market. We all hopped on the GO train, played a Christmas-themed version of the alphabet game all the way downtown and got to the market just as the sun was setting and the lights sparkled. πŸ™‚

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On the way back to Union Station, we stopped for dinner at the Old Spaghetti Factory and it was warm and cozy. Their Christmas decor was fantastic – just what we needed to warm up!

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The next day we made the next batch of cookies; these were mainly for Uncle Chris: Maple Bacon Cookies. Holy moly were they ever good!

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We made the first craft which was a 3d puzzle-like train made out of foam which was harder than it looked. On the box, they provide a suggested time to finish it (an hour I believe) and we did it in that amount of time:

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We played a bit more charades then got ready for our “Christmas by Lamplight” evening at Black Creek Village. We drove: Drove to the village and drove Uncle Chris crazy with our carol-singing in the car. πŸ™‚ Ha! The village itself was beautifully decorated for the holidays and most of the buildings had something festive going on – see a more complete post here. In short, it was amazing. I’d go back in a heartbeat – highly recommended!!

The next day we made cinnamon-baked doughnuts. Oh my.

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Baking is hard work:

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Had Cadbury hot chocolate (best ever – all others have now been ruined):

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We had an impromptu coloring session:

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We finished up some wrapping to make sure we were all ready for the big day. We all dressed up and had a nice charcuterie, cheese, cracker and fruit dinner with cranberry orange punch (cranberry cocktail, orange juice, sparkling water, cinnamon stick and couple of cloves). I could eat it every day. πŸ™‚Β  But then I’d end up looking like Santa, so, no.

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We watched a holiday movie (I lost track of which one!!) then the kids were off to bed to try to get some sleep before Santa’s arrival tomorrow morning.Β  We left out some cookies and milk for Santa and carrots for the reindeer.

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Maddie read Twas the night Before Christmas to us. πŸ™‚

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We managed to take a pic of the tree after Santa came πŸ™‚

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Dec 25th – Christmas Morning!!!! Sue, Chris and I grabbed our coffees, cookies and doughnuts and the kids opened their stockings. They joined us for cookies, then tackled the gifts. πŸ™‚Β  Everyone was very happy. I loved what I received from kitchen goodies from Chris (a beautiful pan, cutting boards and tools that I needed) to an awesome winter scarf and Harry Potter slippers from Sue. It was a great success!

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The girls spent most of the day playing; we took a break for lunch (leftover meats and cheeses), then we started on dinner! The adults kicked off the festivities with a bit of brandy. πŸ™‚

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Then we watched The Sound of Music – it’s tradition! And off to bed!

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On the 26th, after having eaten a load of treats and lord knows what else, we headed out to Crawford Lake to enjoy the outdoors and hiked the boardwalk around the lake. It was a cold one but we were all bundled up and pretty much the only ones there! Even the drive up was quiet and scenic.

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We stopped for lunch at Boston Pizza on the way back home and made Christmas ornaments – we got the makings of this from Michael’s as well and these turned out great!
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We braved the cold again the following day and walked the trails near our house on our way to Starbucks to warm up. We came across a dad and his son tobogganing in the area (we heard the dad screaming from a couple of blocks away) and he asked Sienna and Maddie if they would like a ride (to spare him from having to go again teehee). The girls were super excited to have a run. πŸ™‚

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We had fun playing follow the leader on the way back to warm up. There was hopping and jumping involved. Luckily, no video. πŸ™‚

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And that’s it! We survived another family visit, packed as many holiday activities as we could and from what I hear, the girls are already interested in coming back to Aunt Val’s next Christmas. πŸ™‚ A year to recover should be enough. I think.

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2018: A Look Ahead

I reviewed my Life List and did my usual annual updates: I removed items that are no longer of interest and added in some new ones. It’s funny to see what items I added in the past (what was I thinking?!) and seeing new interests come up (how was this not on the list??).

We’ve already booked our trip for next year (Cruise to Greek Isles leaving from Venice, with stops in Santorini, Mykonos, Dubrovnik and Montenegro), so there are a few travel-related items I’ll be able to cross off.

Here is the list of things I’m aiming to tackle in 2018:

  • Celebrate 15 year anniversary (Woohoo!)
  • Visit Santorini, Greece
  • Visit Dubrovnik, Croatia
  • See King’s Landing, Croatia (where they filmed part of Game of Thrones)
  • Visit Venice, Italy
  • Visit St. Mark’s Basilica in Venice, Italy
  • Travel to 50 countries – will increase this by 2 (Croatia, Montenegro) to 22 (28 to go!)
  • Take 10 cruises – will increase this to 9 total (1 to go!)
  • Take a cruise in Europe
  • Make a craft for every season or holiday for 1 year
  • Make fresh pasta
  • Make my own herbal tea
  • Make a candle

And my usual movie, book and cooking challenges for 2018:

  • Watch 50 movies
  • Read 20 books
  • Cook 30 new recipes

Here are some of my updates:

Added:

  • Travel to Dubrovnik, Croatia – I’ve heard and seen a lot about it and am looking forward to seeing the old town and walled city.
  • See King’s Landing – Big fan of GOT and since I’ll be there anyway, it makes sense to stop and take a peek!
  • Travel to Venice, Italy
  • See St. Mark’s Basilica in Venice
  • Make a drip painting: It’s a technique that’s gaining in popularity and it looks pretty awesome. I can do it.
  • Visit Provence, France
  • Visit Carcassonne, France
  • Make my own herbal tea (I grow herbs, I like tea, I want to try to make my own)
  • Stay in a yurt – it would be fun!
  • Stay in a cabin or lodge in the woods
  • Take a train trip (e.g. The Rocky Mountaineer)
  • Visit Iceland
  • Hike in Algonquin Park

Removed:

  • Travel to Egypt
  • See the Pyramids
  • Wine tour in Napa or Sonoma
  • Tour a chocolate factory
  • Have a near death experience
  • Go fishing

 

Life List Recap 2017

It’s that time of year already! I get to look back to see what I was able to accomplish on my Life List. Most of the items were related to our trip to Italy and I also managed to complete a few others:

  • Travel to Italy
  • See the Sistine Chapel, Italy
  • See the Colosseum, Italy
  • Travel to Tuscany, Italy
  • Enjoy pasta and wine in Italy
  • Take a train in Europe
  • Eat pizza in Italy
  • Have gelato in Italy
  • Travel to 50 countries (increased by 2 for Italy and The Vatican: 20 done, 30 to go)
  • Have a proper English tea: We went to the King Edward and it was a fabulous splurge
  • Participate in an Escape Room: I was with colleagues in Ottawa and we had a fun time trying to escape – we almost made it!!
  • Cook a whole fish: I don’t know why I had never done this before but I finally tackled it. Not a fan of all the little bones, but it was tasty!

For my annual book, movie and cooking challenges, I did pretty good:

  • Watch 50 movies in 2017: I’m currently at 57. Overshot this one very nicely! πŸ™‚
  • Read 30 books in 2017: I’m currently reading #17. Not stellar and it’s not because I selected really big novels either. I’ve just been doing other things (watching movies apparently!). May have to reduce this next year to be realistic.
  • Cook 30 new recipesΒ in 2017: I’m currently at 27 with a few days to go. It might happen.

My list is now at 310 completed of 441 total.

Next up: Revising the list and planning next year’s To Do’s!

Our family loves to visit heritage and pioneer villages; the ones that have original homes and buildings and the staff are dressed in period costume and stay in character while they explain how things were done back in the day. I just love the simplicity of how things used to be.

This year, we went to Black Creek Village in North York during the Christmas by Lamplight event on Saturday night. It was beautifully decorated for Christmas, withΒ  decorations and treats from yesteryear. There were carolers circulating around the village. All the houses/buildings were decorated and staffed with amazing team members, some offering entertainment including caroling, dancing, old-time games and crafts. Others offering treats including mince tarts, candied orange peel, turkish delight, gingerbread cookies, cheese straws, peppermint pastilles, and more!

We had a great time! Can’t wait to go back next year!

Last night was my first time visiting a Christmas Market. We headed down to the Distillery District just east of downtown Toronto late afternoon and braved the throngs of people to enjoy the festivities. It truly was a magical setting with Christmas music playing throughout the area, the lights and enormous Christmas tree.

There were booths selling all kinds of holiday treats and goods. We got fudge (classic!), and enjoyed hot doughnuts (omg) and had a tasty curry for a quick bite.

The shops and galleries were nice too and gave everyone a chance to warm up from the chill outside.

There is a whole section for food and drinks (for young and old).

I can’t wait to go back next year but I think we’ll go during the week as it was ridiculously crowded, but that can be expected on a Friday evening. Still a good time!

We warmed up with hot chocolate before heading downtown:

On the GO Train, heading downtown. We played the alphabet game with Christmas themes. An extra passenger bailed us out when we got to Q. πŸ™‚

The entrance to the Christmas Market:

The tree!!

Chris and I πŸ™‚

Munching on warm doughnuts – holy moly they were good!!

These were near the entrance/exit – they looked cool!

There’s nothing like seeing things through the eyes of a child, especially during the holidays.

Case in point is my 10-year old niece Maddie. We were shopping at Michael’s yesterday picking up some holiday craft stuff.

We were talking about her letter to Santa and I innocently (honestly, with this one, I should have known better) asked her if she had been good this year.

She admitted: “I was a little bit naughty.”Β  Then she added with a shrug and her hands up in the air “But who hasn’t??”

Her answer was so unexpected that I cracked up (pretty loudly) in the aisle.

Wise beyond her years that one. πŸ™‚ (Also a bit of a smart ass).