Friday, December 30, 2011


On the fourth day of Christmas we did some really unique things. My son who is on vacation from teaching in Northern Labrador spent the night with us on December 27th, as well, our oldest daughter and her husband are with us for the balance of the Christmas holidays.

Since we were all together we had an early breakfast of cooked barley cereal with dried cranberries then we headed out to visit the Distillery District in Toronto. You don't want to arrive too early in the Distillery district because most of the shops do not open until 11:00AM or later. We arrived just as most of the shops and galleries were opening. to start with we stopped in at Balzac's Coffee for something hot to drink.

Afterward, we visited some of the shops and galleries. Cubeworks was especially interesting, it is all about the medium. The Thompson Landry Gallery was also interesting. We had a full day ahead of us so we decided that we would return to the Distillery District later in the day.

At 2:00PM we had theater tickets for the five of us at Second City on Mercer Street. We drove close to Second City and walked the few blocks to Mercer Street. It was bitterly cold outside so we were all looking forward to getting inside. Originally, we had decided to go to Gretsky's which is just past Second City on Mercer Street. As we rounded the corner on Mercer Street we spotted a Mexican restaurant called Milagro. It looked inviting and the wind was cold so we decided on the spot that this was where we were going to have lunch.

It turned out that Milagro was an excellent choice. The food was well priced and the quality and quantity of the food was excellent. I had Pollo con Mole which is chicken with a thick chocolate sauce and about 16 different types of chili. it was great!

Pollo con Mole

Everyone else in our party also enjoyed their lunches as well.

After lunch we took a short walk down the street to Second City. We were seated immediately near the back of the theater which was fine for us. Second City is a comedy troupe which puts on high quality shows. This particular show was called "A Dysfunctional Christmas". We spent the next two hours being entertained. I have to say that I had not laughed so much for some time. It was great. I can only say that if you have time go and see this show. You will not regret it.

After the show we returned to the Distillery district to see more of the shops that had not been opened when we were there earlier in the day. Since it was later in the day when we returned to the Distillery District we saw the Christmas lights that were still installed. It was colorful and festive to look at.

We left about 5:30PM to return home for dinner.

It is somewhat of a tradition for us to eat at Swiss Chalet during the Christmas season. Our son was tired so he decided that he would just go home so my wife and I had dinner with my daughter and her husband at Swizz Chalet. I know that this is not high dining but there is a certain comfort in eating some place that is familiar and traditional. It was all that we had expected it to be.

On the fourth day of Christmas we had fourth excellent entertainments; the Distillery District, the Second City Revue, lunch at Milagro and dinner at Swiss Chalet.


After we left Civitavecchia it was a long night a sea while we traveled down the long coast of Italy to Messina. Messina is about as far south as you can go in Italy, it is located  on the northeast corner of Sicily. In the morning, as we were approaching Messina, we were told that we were going to pass the island of Stromboli which is a live volcano. This was pretty amazing for me because I had never seen a live volcano or any kind of volcano before.

The city of Messina is nestled into a natural protected harbor that is perfect for fishermen to launch their fishing boats which was the traditional industry of Messina.

When you dock in Messina the city is immediately accessible from the harbor. We literally walked off the boat and we were in the city of Messina.

We had a specific agenda in Messina, you could call it a culinary agenda. Our goal was to eat thin crust pizza in Messina because we had heard that it was the finest pizza in all of Italy. We also wanted to eat canoli, preferably with a freshly brewed espresso. If possible, we also wanted to find Torrone, the Italian candy that is a blend of honey, nougat and nuts covered with chocolate.

We had no real direction in Messina, there was no tourist bureau that we could see when we landed so we just struck out in a direction that looked interesting. we saw a church up on a hilltop that looked interesting so we walked towards it.

A view of the church on the hilltop

Getting to the church was more elusive that we imagined and we had a few detours on the way. Eventually, we stopped a postman and asked him how to get to the church. He told us how to get there. I understood most of what he said except for the last part which involved some hand motions that were probably easily understood by the locals but lost on me. We followed his directions until we got to the last part. The church was in sight but above us and we could not figure how to get there so we made a choice which turned out to be wrong. We retraced our steps then realized what his hand motion meant, " you get to this point then you walk around the ramp going upwards and then you are at the church", all that in a hand gesture. At any rate we are at the church. It was interesting enough as far as churches go. It could not compare to the churches of Florence. At  one point, we were standing by a spiral staircase that seemed to go right up to the roof. A man asked us if we wanted to go up. I said I did, my wife declined. the way up the stairs was a lot trickier than it seemed. At the top another man opened a small hatch and then I was out on the roof of the church. yet another man walked me around the inside of the dome an let me out at each quadrant of the dome to look out over Messina. The view was spectacular. At the last hatch that I walked out I could climb up a short ladder and get an even better view. It was a breathtaking experience.

A view of the harbor and our cruise ship

Another view of the harbor

After climbing up to the church and walking back down it was almost noon and we were hungry. We had passed a neighborhood restaurant on the way up to the church that had not been open at the time. On the way down the restaurant was open so we decided that this was where we were going to eat Sicilian pizza. We were seated immediately and ordered two pizzas; Frutti di Mare  which was a pizza made with sea food and Margherita which is a pizza with tomato sauce and herbs. Both pizzas were excellent, the crust was crisp and paper thin. The flavor was outstanding. We washed the pizzas down with a liter of sparkling mineral water and I had an espresso. Our entire lunch was less than 20 euros, a bargain.

With our bellies full of great pizza we made our way back towards the ship, looking at everything that looked interesting. There is always something of interest on every street in Italy. Everywhere you turn there is some kind of ruin or other. We made our way down to the main road that runs parallel to the dock. Most of the shops were still closed. In Italy, all businesses close between noon and 2:00PM, except for restaurants. We found a bakery that looked very nice. In fact, this bakery not only had Canoli in their display case but we could see that they also had Torrone. Unfortunately, the bakery was not open. We were just about to turn away and walk down the street when a young woman walked up to us and told us to wait a minute, her father was going to open the bakery for us. They were just returning to the bakery after their mid-day rest. They would have waited to open the store but they saw us standing there and decided to open the bakery early. We went inside and ordered two canoli which were incredibly delicious. We also bought two kilograms of Torrone which we took away with us.Our day in Messina was a complete success!

Tuesday, December 27, 2011


Today is the third day of Christmas. We went to a hockey tournament to see one of my niece's son's hockey team play, the Hamilton Bulldog novice team. Since we do not normally follow novice hockey, at least not since my own son played hockey some 20 years ago, we were not exactly sure were the arena was. My niece told us that it was on Appleby and Mainway in Burlington. Well, we knew where Appleby Line is and we know where Mainway street is so we thought that we knew where the arena was. We left the house just after 8:00AM thinking that we had plenty of time to get to the game. we arrived at Appleby Ice Center around 8:30AM just as all the novice hockey players were arriving with their parents so we thought that we were right on time. When we walked into the arena we did not realize that there were actually three hockey pads in the ice center. We did not know which pad they were playing on so we went from pad to pad looking for the Hamilton Bulldogs. After about 20 minutes of fruitless searching we asked one of the fathers who was sitting outside one of the pads if he knew where the Bulldogs were playing. To our amazement he wiped out his ipad and called up the entire junior hockey schedule for all of southern Ontario, and possibly beyond. within a minute or so he told us that we were in the wrong arena, the Bulldogs were playing in Mainway Recreation Center which was just a few blocks away on Mainway west of Appleby..

I have to admit that by this point I was getting a little frustrated, mainly because I did not have the information that I thought I needed to resolve the problem. So, back in our car we got and drove to Mainway Reacreation Center. It didn't take us long to find the game where the Hamilton Bulldog novice team was playing. We had arrived just as the third period had started. It was not going well for the Bulldogs. The visiting team, The Little Caesars from Detroit were leading 2 to 1 in the third period. We did get to see our niece's son play for the first part of the third period but then he was taken off when the coach put on the second string of players to try and even out the odds. That strategy did not seem to work so well.

In the last three minutes of the game it seemed that a little desperation set in and the coach pulled the goalie so that they could put one more player out on the ice. It had the wrong result, the Little Caesars scored again. The final score was 3 to 1 for the Little Caesars from Detroit. Well, there is always one team that has to win and one team that has to lose. Today, it was the Hamilton bulldogs novice team's turn to lose. Still, it was interesting and a gift of sorts. Hockey is such an integral part of the Canadian psyche that I could not imagine Christmas without hockey.

When I was a teenager and spending many of my Christmas holidays in Quebec I attended many a day long hockey tournament where we would watch team after team after team play hockey for an entire day. It is something that tends to settle somewhere just below your psychic makeup. I also recall the endless cold winter mornings that we had to endure while my son would practice hockey at 6:30AM on a Saturday and Sunday morning during hockey season. They were bone chilling experiences at the time but know they seem to be warm memories. Amazing, isn't it, how memories mellow and soften over time.

So, I can say that on the third day of Christmas we were given the gift of hockey, in three periods, at the three pads of Appleby Arena and unfortunately for the score of 3 to 1.

Monday, December 26, 2011


Today is Boxing Day, the second day of Christmas. Since my son was not able to be with us yesterday, he spent the day with his girlfriend's family, we decided that we would all get together on Boxing Day to celebrate Christmas Day.

We had our traditional breakfast of eggs, Canadian bacon, fruit salad, homemade Christmas bread and coffee. After breakfast we engaged in another tradition, opening our presents. What made this Christmas special was that it was my granddaughter's first Christmas. It seemed that as much attention was focused on my granddaughter's reaction to Christmas as it was to the rest of us celebrating. Maybe this is part of the expansion in our family, our first grandchild.

There were a lot of great presents exchanged today, thoughtful and imaginative. My wife and I were amazed that our children, spouses  and partners had joined together an bought an ipad for us. This is a gift that fits with our lifestyle so well. When we are traveling we can easily keep in touch or be connected in every way that we could think of. It also gives us portability and incredible flexibility. We appreciate the gift greatly and we will make good use of this present.

One of the most unique gifts that everyone received were mittens that were made by Inuit people who live in the village where my son is currently teaching high school. The mittens are made from cured caribou skin. These are the skins of the caribou that the Inuit hunt and eat. The skins of the animals are then used for mittens and other items of clothing. Some of the skins are smoke cured and they give off a delicious odor that is reminiscent of BBQ meat that is cooked with Hickory. Other mittens were cured in the normal way and they have a faint odor that is similar to the smell of a leather coat.

In the picture, there are two sets of mittens. The lighter colored set with the floral pattern belong to my wife. The fur around the outside is rabbit and the lining is detachable so that it can be removed and washed. The other darker pair are mine. We are not sure about the fur around the outside of the mittens but the fur reminds me of the fur of a wolf but we are not certain. The lining of my mittens are also detachable so that they can be washed. At any rate, The mittens are incredibly soft and warm. I would guarantee that I could wear these mittens at -40 degrees Celsius (-40 degrees Fahrenheit) and feel toasty warm.

So, on the second day of Christmas we received two pairs of mittens.

Sunday, December 25, 2011


It is Christmas Day. Funny that it has seemed so long to get here but not that it is here it is time to slow down and enjoy every moment. I have not had time to publish a single post the entire month of December so far. I thought I would do a twelve day of Christmas series of post.

This year, it is just my wife and I for Christmas Morning, family will be over later this afternoon and evening. We had a quiet early morning breakfast. Even though we were by ourselves we had our traditional family breakfast of eggs, Canadian bacon, fruit and home made Christmas bread with coffee. While we ate we listened to the music of Mannheim Steamroller, a perennial Christmas favorite in our house. Mannheim Steamroller has always elicited the right amount of Christmas ethos that creates the perfect Christmas morning mood.

After breakfast my wife started some bread that we will have for dinner tonight with our family. I went outside to give our wild friends a Christmas Day treat. I filled the bird feeder with fresh bird seed

and filled the bird bath with warm water.

All the time that I was filling the bird feeder and the bird bath I could hear the birds, not too far away, chirping and "tweeting" to one another that food and a warm bath is getting ready for them.

I also put out a treat for our local squirrel population which is fairly numerous. We had a box of Rice Crispies which was way past its due date so it was relegated to squirrels who do not worry so much about the niceties of due dates and the like. If it is edible that is good enough for our local country squirrels.

Perhaps city squirrels are more discerning but that is another story. In my rail fence on the ravine side of our property there is once section that has a long and deep natural trough. I filled this trough with a generous portion of Rice Crispies. Now, I can watch from the comfort of  inside our house, the birds and the squirrels enjoying their Christmas Day meal as well.

So, on the first Day of Christmas we had one lovely Christmas Morning breakfast. I guess we were not as alone as I thought on Christmas Morning!